Gotta get a couple of things out of the way before even mentioning what this film is about: After seeing it, there’s a good chance that you’ll never have the urge to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken again. And if there was any doubt before, now it’s a done deal — this is the year of Matthew McConaughey. Wait, one more. William Friedkin can still kick ass.
Working from a script by Tracy Letts, who based it on his own 1998 off-Broadway play, Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist, To Live and Die in L.A.) has fashioned yet another film about messed up people doing awful things. In this case, he’s dealing with a cast of characters whose traits include stupidity, meanness, amorality... this lovely list could go on.
Let’s see, we’ve got the petty drug dealer, Chris (Emile Hirsch), who’s deeply in debt to the wrong people. There’s his deadbeat, ever-broke dad, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), who’s a sandwich and a slice of pie short of a picnic. And don’t forget Chris’ sexpot ditz of a sister Dottie (Juno Temple). Over on the side, just watching this parade, is Ansel’s smokin’, possibly dangerous wife Sharla (Gina Gershon).
The pitch-black comedy plot has Chris needing money so badly, he plans to have his mother — Ansel’s ex — bumped off in order to collect the insurance dough. Dad, squinting through a beer haze, OKs the deal. Enter the man to do the job: Killer Joe Cooper (McConaughey), the local sheriff of this sleepy Texas burg, who also freelances as a hitman.
From the moment of his drawling, swaggering entrance scene, McConaughey owns the film. Here’s a guy that’s made some pretty bad choices in recent years (see: Sahara). But from Tropic Thunder on, he’s been on a roll. The performance that started this year of McConaughey was Magic Mike, and he’s still got The Paperboy coming. In this one, he plays an unrepentant villain, a man without scruples except for the unwavering rules he chooses to live and work and kill by.
This is a story that practically celebrates escalating emotional and physical complications between characters. What eventually gets played out on the screen will make you laugh, squirm and will ultimately shock you. At a few points you might be upset to discover that you’re laughing. Whatever’s going through your head while watching it, due to a certain pivotal scene, about which nothing will be revealed here, you ain’t gonna be craving any KFC on the ride home.