Desperate times call for desperate measures; but the key participants in this piece are cursed by disloyalty, foolishness and greed, and they are cats paws in the hands of the more powerful and cunning. Splendidly played by all of the cast the story makes even these simple observations more subtle still. This isn't a film for the squeamish or those who hate Michael Hanecke style films; but it demonstrates what American cinema can do when it chooses to.
For good and ill.
on 30 June 2013
What makes Killer Joe, a cold and brutal film, work is that it's very funny. It's a true black comedy, with nary a hint of restraint. The film faced censorship in America but William Friedkin, its director, refused to cut it, reasoning that he would have destroyed it by doing so. Good for him. Though the film defines the notion of "adults only" its unpredictability and clear-eyed take on its squalid characters is what makes it disturbing, as opposed to just the level of its violence. It's not a Human Cenitpede or even a recent Texas Chainsaw. Rather, it relies on coldly efficient storytelling to disturb us, and make us laugh. Killer Joe was written by Tracy Letts, based on his play. Its humour comes from juxtapositions between bleak reality and social pleasantries, like when a gangster makes small talk with a man he's about to have savagely beaten.
Drug dealer Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) hires "Killer" Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a cop who moonlights as an assassin, to kill Chris' mother, so he can collect her life insurance and pay some dangerous creditors. In on the plan is Chris' clueless father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), slutty stepmother, Sharla (Gina Gershon), and mentally immature sister, Dottie (Juno Temple). Because Chris won't be able to pay Joe until the job's done, Joe demands to be set up with Dottie as a deposit. Chris accepts this more reluctantly than Ansel.
McConaughey, a talented actor, transcends his hunky persona to play Joe as a control freak. Joe's attracted to Dottie, I think, partly because he can use her to act out, unquestioningly, all of his dreams and desires, and partly because her child-like innocence exists in a world outside the stinking horror of his. Even psychopaths appreciate nice company, I guess. Though the film's called Killer Joe, Dottie is its true centre. She's just as, if not even more valuable than money to Chris and Joe. As stupid, callous and selfish as Chris is, there's a grain of simple love for Dottie within him. He probably appreciates her for the same reason Joe does: her innocence. She's kept like a caged bird in her room at the back of Ansel's trailer, and immature as she is she seems smarter at times than her whole family put together. Haden Church is a great supporting player. He achieves the difficult feat of playing Ansel as a man who understands how moronic he is. Gershon's suitably trashy as his wife, though how a self-interested, streetwise woman like her ended up in Ansel's trailer is up for question.
Like Friedkin's Bug, which was also adapted by Letts from one of his plays, Killer Joe has a theatrical sensibility. It uses a lot of static scenes where characters have long, twisty conversations, but the dialogue's so good, as it has to be in theater, that I didn't mind, and Friedkin creates a lot of haunting images. At its heart the film is a dark human comedy about desperation. Very dark.
on 8 February 2014
Killer Joe is not an easy movie to watch. Grim and grubby this won’t provide a cosy night it but it is riveting from start to finish.
Carl needs money and he needs it fast so he decides the best thing to do is to bump off his estranged mother and inherit her life insurance. So with the help of his father he enlist Killer Joe, a police officer moonlighting as an assassin. When Joe finds out that payment can’t be made until the murder takes place he decides to take Carl’s sister as a retainer. Suffice to say the rest of the story doesn’t quite go to plan and everything spirals out of control.
The film itself is not as controversial as some would have you believe but it does have some uncomfortable moments which will make you squirm. The film is littered with interesting characters each with their own secrets and flaws and these come to light as the film progresses. The twist in the tail is well handled and in fact the last half an hour is superbly tense.
A powerhouse performance from an increasingly exciting Matthew McConaughey only serves to make this film all the more tense. He has a seething menace and violent streak just waiting to burst from his immediately calm demeanour.
Killer Joe is a film with intent. Intending to make you wriggle in your seat which it succeeds at doing. It isn’t the quiet masterpiece that some may have hoped for, but it shows that directors like Friedkin still have the guts to push some boundaries.
on 21 May 2013
Ok, forget what you know and what you see about Friedkin in the seventies: it's a peak he was not going to reach again in the following decades. Still this is a pulp, brilliant, dark comedy, very well written, with a bunch of good actors and Matthew mcconaughey best performance ever (that means the director just let him be himself, playing a role that is so like he probably is in life, including his accent, that was so exploited in True Detective).
Friedkin has been smart enough to take the best of the brilliant theatrical piece the film is based on.
All the rest is good pulp/crime comedy.
on 23 January 2014
Finding himself in considerable debt, Chris, a Texan drug dealer, decides the only solution is to murder his mother to collect the insurance money.
Getting together with his father, the ex-husband of Chris' mother, they decide to hire Joe Cooper, a contract killer, who also happens to be a police detective.
The plan is that the money will go to Chris' sister Dottie.
However, due to the size of the contract fee, Chris agrees that Joe can take Dottie as a retainer until the insurance comes through.
Friedkin knows how to shock, but does it with a certain panache. And thanks to this, he has made some of the finest films ever.
He did falter a little in the nineties, but he has redeemed himself in the last six years with Bug, and now this little evil movie.
It's a sadistic piece, but with some cracking performances, and Mahogany puts in I career best performance. His Joe is the stuff of nightmares, and the scene when he is questioning Gershon (not the chicken leg scene), is some of the most intense cinema of the year.
The film moves at a heady pace, and it has a brilliant, almost hilarious twist at the end. It wasn't going to work well for Hirsch and Church, as they ooze bad luck, but it's fun watching them be delusional.
It's not for all tastes, it takes way too many risks, and just about gets away with them, but Friedkin has made another brilliant movie.
Based on a play this film is a lot more engaging than the average guns and killer flick. Plenty of twists in the story and perhaps a comparison with Reservoir Dogs would not be unfair. Hints of religious evil. Menace is especially enhanced by the domestic atmosphere of the action. Sex as a payment, sex as a reward, sex as an act of power. Underage and detailed. Fabulous stuff.
I first found out about `Killer Joe' from UK film critic Mark Kermode who said that, after watching the film, he wasn't actually sure whether he liked it or not. I was intrigued. I wondered whether you automatically knew whether you liked something or not after experiencing it. However, after viewing Killer Joe, I am also wondering whether I liked it or not.
Killer Joe is about a trailer park family on the wrong side of the law in America. The son owes a lot of money to some local drug dealers and decides to have hitman Joe Cooper (or `Killer' as the title says) shoot her so that they can benefit from the insurance money. Definitely a film of an adult nature. For a start, it's very `gritty.' It has many brutal beatings, murders and acts of a s*xual nature (including torture). Yet it's also strangely comic (in the darkest, blackest sense possible). You certainly get a feel for the characters, even though none of them are in any way likeable.
It's kind of like a window into another world. A world full of car crashes that you have to watch, but don't necessarily want to experience firsthand.
Did I enjoy it? I certainly didn't turn it off. Would I want to watch it again? Maybe. In a while. Right now it's a bit too fresh in my head. I think it may warrant a second viewing, but only if I'm in the mood for something pretty dark and nasty. I can see quite a lot of people hating this for being just generally horrible. To be fair, they may have a point. This is one film that you'll either be able to stand or you won't.
Those of you into `light and fluffy' beware - you have been warned!
on 21 September 2012
Personally, I think this does for Matthew McConaughey what Pulp Fiction did for Travolta. Remember when Travolta was lost in 'Look Who's Talking' Hell? Well Matthew McConaughey's been sleepwalking through Rom-Coms for years. He was great in Dazed & Confused... Remember that?
Well, in Killer Joe he plays a great character, a twisted contract killer with own weird sense of moral purpose. Hired by a couple of dim rednecks to off a family member for the insurance pay out, he waives his usual payment upfront rule and agrees a deal with the drug dealer who hires him. He'll take the dealers trailer park ingenue sister as a retainer instead until the cash comes through.
In a cinematic landscape of bland, safe big screen entertainment, this is the kind of underbelly darkness that really bites. Blackly comic, expertly played and building to a shocking climax, Killer Joe is a must see movie.
Killer Joe [DVD]
The Smith family live in a panties optional trailer park. Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a young coke dealer who is in hock for $6,000 for 2 ounces that was fronted to him and apparently stolen by his mom. Okay I know that is too much for 2 oz. and no one fronts drugs, but go with it. His equally slow witted dad (Thomas Haden Church) lives there as well as his step mom (Gina Gershon). To round out the group is their dog Tebow and child-like sister Dottie (Juno Temple) who reminded me of the Hillbilly Ninja (Google it) in one scene.
Chris believes his real mom, who he suspects stole his coke from him, has a $50,000 life insurance policy and names the half witted Dottie as the beneficiary. Their plan is to hire "Killer Joe" (Matthew McConaughey)a Dallas detective who moonlights as a gun for hire. Without the up front money, Joe takes Dottie as a "retainer" to the ire of Chris who perhaps loves his sister a little too much. This provides us with a very erotic scene between Juno and McConaughey.
There of course is a problem with the expected twist, and another twist thrown in just in case you thought you were clever. There are clues that most of us would ignore.
The opening sound track lets you know this is a grindhouse style movie. Plenty of sex, nudity, and bloody violence. Clearly not for everyone. Good accents.
Parental Guide: F-bombs, sex, full frontal nudity (Juno Temple, Gina Gershon or body double, uncredited strippers) Blood, violence, killing, violence to women.
on 11 May 2014
I never much liked Matthew McConaughey as the only films I had ever seen him in were light fully rom coms. But this is propr acting.