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Pulp Fiction: a review of “Killer Joe”

"Killer Joe"
"Killer Joe"

Legendary director William Friedkin returns to his blood-soaked roots with Killer Joe, a nasty piece of pulp fiction that would make Quentin Tarantino crack an evil grin. Set in the Big D — that’s Dallas to y’all — it centers on a motley crew of corn-pone crazies who conspire to off one of their own for the insurance money. Friedkin and his screenwriter, Tracy Letts (who also wrote the play), set fire to all that is good and holy here, including a fried chicken drumstick, which is blasphemed in a way you’ll never forget. Good lawd, it’s a good movie.

Emile Hirsch stars as Chris Smith, a bumbling, low-level dealer who owes some bad dudes big money. To pay them back, Chris convinces his know-nothing pappy Ansel (Thomas Haden Church, a slack-jawed pushover) to go in on a murder-for-hire plot. The target: Chris’s much-hated mom, aka Ansel’s ex-wife. That’s where Killer Joe comes in.

As he did in this year’s other terrific Texas-set movie, Bernie, Matthew McConaughey revels in his character’s manic zeal for his profession. A cop by day and a hitman by night, Joe agrees to do the murder for money upfront — money Chris and Ansel can’t pay. That’s where Chris’s angelic, slightly slow sister Dottie (Juno Temple, the one bright light among morally dim bulbs) comes in.

Joe fancies this girl something fierce, and Dottie soon gets sold-out to him by Chris and Ansel. From there, the film grows progressively (regressively?) creepier, as Friedkin cranks up the violence, depravity and twisted plot twists. Alleviating the horrors are ink-black comedic moments, usually at the expense of the characters. But look, folks: This ain’t Candy Land. Friedkin gives Killer Joe the grimy look and feel of his crime classic The French Connection. It’s the perfect retrofit for this hog-wild tale of reprobates. Go with God. KEVIN CAPP