Saturday, August 11, 2012

Review: "Killer Joe"

I was going to go see The Bourne Legacy, but mediocre reviews drove me towards Killer Joe. Advertised as a totally, deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story, it is a truly fucked up and ultra-violent film about murder-for-hire gone wrong. It features a great cast, including Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Hayden Church, Gina Gershon and Juno Temple. It features scene after scene of gratuitous nudity and brutal violence. Killer Joe is directed by William Friedkin, who is responsible for the Oscar-winning The French Connection (1971) and the horror staple The Exorcist (1973). In recent years he has had less success, with Jade (1995) and Rules of Engagement (2000). Killer Joe is a dark Southern Gothic film. There is not a single likable character in the entire film. I am not even sure I enjoyed watching it. It is a bit hit-and-miss on its attempts at dark humour. The screenplay was written by Tracy Letts, adapting it from his own stage play. It is not the first Letts play to be adapted by Friedkin - in 2006 Friedkin directed Bug, which starred Ashley Judd. Letts in a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, whose award-winning play August: Osage County will star Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. There were moments, in between the senseless acts of violence, where the film loses some of its intensity. Emile Hirsch is so good when he is angry, but it is hard when his character is a complete moron. Gina Gershon, who is probably most well known for either Showgirls (1995) or Bound (1996), does a remarkable job showcasing her acting talents in the film. Even Matthew McConaughey, who is more miss than hit for me, was more than bearable. Killer Joe could have been an amazing film. I could envision Quentin Tarantino turning it into a bloody mess, in a very good way. Killer Joe is a burst of energy and blood, but by the end it lags to the finish line despite a blood-drenched finale. I am still on the fence about whether or not it is a good film.

Chris (Hirsch) finds himself in trouble after his deadbeat mother steals his cocaine and kicks him out of the house. He owes Digger (Marc Macaulay) a considerable amount of money. In the middle of the night he starts banging on his father's trailer calling his sister Dottie's (Temple) name. As the rain pours down he is greeted by a near-naked Sharla (Gershon), his step-mother. He and his father Ansel (Church) end up at a strip club where Chris unveils a plan for them to get $50 000. Chris discovered that his mother has a life insurance policy and Dottie is the beneficiary. Chris has also heard about a man, Killer Joe (McConaughey), who they can hire to kill Adele. The problem is that they are unable to pay the fee upfront. Killer Joe is only willing to accept their proposal if they give him a retainer: Dottie. Dottie, who reveals that her mother once tried to kill her by suffocating her with a pillow, is at best only half-aware of her surroundings. Chris and Ansel agree to his terms but fail to tell Dottie. Chris then finds himself in trouble with Digger and has second thoughts about his arrangement with Killer Joe. He wants to escape with Dottie but their plans seem to fall by the wayside.

I think my chief problem with Killer Joe is that all the characters seem to be one-dimensional. They are all caricatures. They are pure white trash. They are impoverished drunks who live in a trailer park. The story line involving Chris' connection with drug dealers seems to be a last second addition to the plot. It does nothing except allow for Friedkin to have a scene where Chris gets his ass kicked until he ends up in a pool of his own blood. It does not seem to be resolved by the end of the film. There are some films that you watch and you suffer through them just to find out how it ends. I was indifferent. It did not matter so much how the film ended, just that it ended. In the middle of the story I became bored and distracted. I hardly cared that Chris did not want Dottie to be involved with Killer Joe. There were very subtle suggestions that Chris was in love with his sister. I often complain that directors and screenwriters never let us figure things out on our own, but in this instance I wish that the audience was given a few more clues. I am not even sure Killer Joe is a good enough story to ever have become a great film. The characters are terrible people, and while the actors do a great job with the material, the film never allows for them to develop. Killer Joe is just an excuse to be over the top. I wanted to love it, but I just found myself slogging through it.

My rating: 2 stars out of 4.

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