Friday, September 14

REVIEW: Killer Joe


Directed by William Friedkin
Crime Drama
1 hour 43 minutes
From LD Entertainment

Matthew McConaughey
Emile Hirsch
Juno Temple
Gina Gershon
Thomas Haden Church

It is all about trashy people.  Let's just say it, get it out here and deal with it.  A rednecked, blue-collared family lives in a Texas trailer park.  They connive and cheat.  They have no respect for one another and show even less.  They're a nice blending of amoral and immoral.  They look a mess.  They think eating KFC out of a bucket is the height of their culinary week.  Oh yes, did I mention that the son in the family wants to have his mother, with whom he is estranged, murdered?  No?  Well, let's not forget that part. 

The son is in serious need of cash to pay off a gambling debt and the mother's life insurance policy, with the daughter as beneficiary, seems like the plan.  Excuse me, pass the biscuits.  He lives with his father, his stepmother and his younger sister, the insurance beneficiary.  All four are some seriously damaged people.  Dad is kinda dumb, the wicked stepmom is just that and the girl, while fetching in a Lolita sort of way, is a little slow.  That likely stemmed from her earliest years when her mother tried to smother her with a pillow.  The son is no Rhodes Scholar and it's likely he thinks it has something to do with a stolen car.  The future is looking dim for them at the point they hire a cop, who moonlights as an assassin, Killer Joe, to dispatch Mom.

One more thing before we leave the plot itself and that is that Joe informs them that if anything doesn't go as planned, he will kill them all.  How this all works out... other than the fact that your gut, even so far, tells you they aren't all sailing off on the Good Ship Lollipop... you will just have to see for yourselves.

Had Matthew McConaughey not been hired for the title role, one would have been heard... what, Matthew McConaughey busy?  He was born to play Joe, a brutal, controlling, menacing, mannerly, confident, studly dude.  He has those eyes, that wry smile that just dares you to challenge him.  I loved him in this most unsympathetic role.  Is there more gravy?

All the roles are unsympathetic, which is one thing that makes this movie different from most and generates rapt attention.  It has a wow factor that I couldn't seem to turn off the entire time.  Emile Hirsch is a young actor I like and he gets the brass ring for an illuminating turn as the troubled son.  I heard once that he wanted to quickly lose his sweet young boy looks of The Mudge Boy and get edgier and look more like a bad boy.  Most of his roles since that film have been mission accomplished but none more so than here.

If a producer or director were going through a casting directory looking to hire someone to portray the stepmother and came across Gina Gershon, one would look no further.  Is there any more Mountain Dew?  She is a worthy successor to the coarse appeal of an Anna Magnani.  We know I love my tough dame actresses and here is one of the inner court.

Thomas Haden Church I have liked before it was fashionable to do so.  We go back to even before TV's Wings.  He always adds an earthy quality to the proceedings.  Usually affable with an aw-shucks demeanor, I was not surprised to read he was raised in Texas.  No doubt as to why he was picked to play the unstructured, underwhelming father.

We recently saw Juno Temple in The Dark Knight Rises and after not remembering her in some earlier films (several of which I actually own), I was so impressed with her as the pokey little sex bomb who so charms a gritty killer.  If she would just add thumb-sucking to her other charms, someone might consider her for the remake of Baby Doll.

William Friedkin is back as a director of a good film... it's been awhile.  He is expert at examining the lives of those living on the edge, sometimes mavericks, sometimes outlaws.  One only needs to refer to his body of work which includes Boys in the Band, The French Connection, The Exorcist, Cruising, To Live and Die in L.A., among others, to know what I am talking about.  His characters are often in search of better lives and go about achieving it in ways that evoke consternation.  He also tends to latch onto projects that promote rich characterizations and Killer Joe is no exception.  You may not approve of these people or the choices they make but they are deftly sketched for your perusal.  Is there any more crispy left?

I call this movie a crime thriller but I would have felt equally at home calling it a black comedy, a gallows type of humor that is at once dark, taboo and satirical.  There is also a number of great lines that are bound to set the audience into a fit of giggles.

Ace cinematographer Caleb (The Right Stuff, The Black Stallion, The Natural, The Patriot) Deschanel captured the bleakness of a poor Texas community and he was aided by some exciting location work.  Scenes filmed at a shuttered amusement park added to the eeriness.

As you might expect, there is a healthy dose of raw language, nudity, sexual scenes and head-turning violence.  (What can I say?  No one goes to the ballet or the opera or munches on watercress sandwiches in this little opus.)  They all contribute to that wow factor I mentioned earlier and to a richly-drawn tapestry of poor, not particularly intelligent people drawn to taking desperate measures to get ahead.   I loved the colorful writing by Tracy Letts, the tight direction and the superb performances.

And listen Texans, don't pick on me because it looks like I have picked on you.  This nasty piece of business could have taken place in any state.  You just have the misfortune of it being filmed in yours.  You gotta note the comments in the movie poster above.

I must say I will never think of a chicken drumstick in quite the same way again.  Shhh, I mustn't say more.

I see this movie is listed as a 2011 release.  Really?  It just opened in these parts.  Where's it been?


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