Seventy-six-old filmmaker William Friedkin’s ferocious new movie “Killer Joe” looks like it was made by a 26-year-old.
Yet Friedkin — who won a best directing Oscar for “The French Connection” and directed one of the biggest hits of all time, “The Exorcist” — claims he didn’t do anything other than pick the right script, cast the right actors and show up.
“Killer Joe” is based on a play by Tracy Letts, who also wrote the play “Bug,” and the screenplay for Friedkin’s underrated film of the same name. Recently in The City to promote “Killer Joe,” Friedkin calls Letts a “genius.”
“Letts created this world,” Friedkin says. “Once I read the script, I knew it was something that I really wanted to do, but it could never have originated from me.”
“Killer Joe” is about a family of trailer-dwelling outcasts who, in order to collect a life insurance policy, hire a cop (Matthew McConaughey) who doubles as a hitman. The hitman is enchanted by the family’s youngest girl, the dreamy Dottie (Juno Temple).
“It’s a kind of Cinderella story,” Friedkin says. “She’s living with these animals, and is looking for her Prince Charming to get out.”
“‘Killer Joe’ examines the human condition on that level,” he continues. “They play out their roles in situations over which they have no real control.”
Friedkin did add his own touches to the movie.
“I wrote to Tracy and I said, ‘I think I’ve got to expand the film in a visual way and put in a chase.’ And he emailed me back and said, ‘chase away.’”
Though Friedkin is known for breathtaking car chase scenes in “The French Connection,” “To Live and Die in L.A.” and “Jade,” the new chase features characters on foot in a ruined, abandoned, graffiti-covered world.
“That world is blasted out,” Friedkin says. “It’s waiting to die.”
As he went along, he also took advantage of interesting sound cues, such as a monster truck rally playing at top volume on a television set in the background, a barking dog, a thunderstorm or the click of Killer Joe’s lighter.
“I discover these things once I get into them,” he says. “One day Matthew started to play with the lighter. It’s a vaguely threatening sound, but it’s in fact harmless, except that the instrument itself is capable of destruction.”
Friedkin smiles. “And that’s Joe.”
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon
Written by Tracy Letts
Directed by William Friedkin
Running time 1 hour 43 minutes