The opening scene begins with a down pour of rain in the middle of the night, and a dog chained to a trailer barking its head off at Chris (Emile Hirsch), who throws open the door to a trailer home, and right there, staring him in the face, is a woman’s hairy beaver. From that point onward you should know that Killer Joe is not your typical modern-day crime story. It’s more akin to the 1940’s and 50’s crime novels. Now, I’m not talking about the wise-cracking, street-smart private investigators written by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, I’m talking about the bloody smut that was churned out by James M. Cain and Jim Thompson. The kind of murder stories that include adultery, pornography, sex with a minor, and faces (both women and men) being beaten to a bloody pulp. And after all that crap, not a single gun was fired until the very end. Can you believe that…? Not a single gun went off in this crime story about murder until the last reel. How does that happen…? Through great storytelling, and a masterful knowledge of the crime genre, that’s how.
The film was directed by William Friedkin and written by playwrite, Tracy Letts (based on her play by the same title). Its pacing is even and gradual, the plot and consequences grow to become more disastrous, and the twist in the middle of the story fits perfectly. But the ending…sucks. It can sometimes be called artistic when the writer and director leave the ending open to interpretation, but in the case of Killer Joe, it was a big mistake. There needed to be closure and when there wasn’t any, I felt robbed. The poor choice of an ending turned what could’ve been a well-conceived crime story into a dud.
But don’t let a flimsy ending stop you from seeing Killer Joe. I still say it’s a masterpiece of pulp-crime. However, if you’re one of those people who don’t want their world disrupted, and enjoy their four-bedroom suburban home with cat and dog and a regular 9 to 5 with kid’s soccer practice and piano lessons on the weekends, then you’re better off not letting Killer Joe into the house.