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Movie review: 'Killer Joe'
Matthew McConaughey has enjoyed a bit of a reinvention over the past year or so, casting aside eager-to-please roles in forgettable romantic comedies for dark, serious work in films with more shading and complexity.
This began with 2011's “The Lincoln Lawyer,” in which he played a sleazy lawyer who finds his swagger may not help him get out of every jam. It continued earlier this year with supporting roles as a slick, self-promoting district attorney in “Bernie” and as a stripper-turned-nightclub owner hungry for money and fame in “Magic Mike.”
But McConaughey's evolution reaches a thunderous crescendo in “Killer Joe,” in which he plays the title character: a meticulously smooth Dallas police detective with a side business as a hit man. He's calm and controlling, soft-spoken and impeccably dressed. And he's extremely dangerous.
If you look closely, McConaughey hasn't changed all that much. All these performances call upon him to play on his persona, to work that seductive charm with his sexy smile and Texas twang, but now he's doing it for dubious if not deadly purposes. As he embraces his maturity, he's establishing a much more powerful screen presence.
Joe is the frightening figure at the center of William Friedkin's pulpy Southwestern noir, full of drug dealers and trailer parks, diner tips and tuna casseroles. This is the second time the veteran director of “The Exorcist” and “The French Connection” has adapted a play from Oklahoma-born Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy Letts; their first collaboration was 2007's “Bug,” about a couple who hide in a motel room and feed on each other's paranoia, with Letts adapting the screenplay both times.
Whereas “Bug” was ridiculous and didn't know it, “Killer Joe” is ridiculous and absolutely wallows in it. It revels in its low-rent digs and low-life criminals. These characters are types, people at the fringes of society who are screwed up beyond redemption, but the actors playing them are clearly having a blast slumming.
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Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church.
(Graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality)
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