Small-time drug dealer and user Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is in trouble. He’s owe $6,000 to the local crime boss and his dim-witted trailer trash father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) can’t even give him even $1,000 to buy a little more time.
Fortunately Chris has been told of a route out of this situation. His alcoholic mother, whom Ansel is divorced from, has a $50,000 insurance policy made out to his sister Dottie (Juno Temple) while hit-man Joe (Matthew McConaughey) only charges $20,000 for a job.
Complications then arise, beginning with the fact Joe’s fee is $25,000 and he demands payment up front. Chris manages to convince Joe to take Dottie as a “retainer” in lieu of the money, which he will pay once the insurance money has come through.
Part Double Indemnity, part Fargo in Texas (both films use Lee Hazelwood’s These Boots were made for Walking on their soundtracks), part pitch black noir in the Jim Thompson style (The Grifters, This World then the Fireworks, The Getaway etc.) this is the kind of film that it’s easier to admire than enjoy.
It’s admirable because director William Friedkin pulls few punches and delivers a film which received the kiss of death NC-17 certificate in the US and that features brave performances from Gershon, McConaughey and Temple.
It’s difficult to enjoy for a couple of reasons. First, there is not a sympathetic character comparable to Frances McDormand’s pregnant cop Marge Gunderson to provide a point of identification. Second, because the line between black comedy and unpleasantness is progressively crossed to an extent that may turn off some viewers.
Most notably there is a scene where one character, who has been savagely beaten, is forced to fellate a chicken leg another holds at their groin as if a penis.
Those who have seen Last House on Dead End Street might wonder if there is a nod to its deer hoof fellatio scene here, and can thereby reassure themselves that they’ve seen worse/better in terms of fucked-upness. More mainstream viewers may wish to proceed with caution.