Wednesday, September 12, 2012

KILLER JOE: A Twisted Good Time, If You Can Stomach It

KILLER JOE (Dir. William Friedkin, 2011)

It’s wonderfully fitting that this movie features rowdy local legends Southern Culture on the Skids on its soundtrack.

That’s because the psychobilly band often throws fried chicken into their just-as-rowdy audience, and in this movie, fried chicken gets used…well, I’m not going to tell you how fried chicken is used in this movie!

I will tell you that this NC-17 rated dark comedy (from the people who brought you BUG!) is a lot of twisted fun, that is, if you can stomach it.

In what may be his finest role this side of David Wooderson in DAZED AND CONFUSED, Matthew McConaughey plays the title character, a corrupt cop/hitman, who is employed by a Texan trailer trash family to murder one of their own so they can collect the insurance money.

As a scuzzy heavily in debt drug-dealer, Emile Hirsch hatches the plan to kill his mother, and convinces his scummy extremely dim-witted mechanic father (Thomas Haden Church with very unappealing patches of facial hair), to go along with it – as the target is his ex.

Church’s sleazy waitress wife (Gina Gershon), is also game, and Juno Temple as Hirsh’s flighty not-all-there sister is wrapped up in the caper too, as she is the beneficiary of her mother’s policy.

When Hirsh and Church can’t come up with the 25 grand to pay McConaughey, he decides to take Temple as a “retainer” until the insurance gets paid out, because he’s sweet on her.

Taking place in Texas, but filmed in Louisiana, KILLER JOE was based on a stage play written byTracy Letts, who also wrote the screenplay, so its tight plotting was honed in the theater. 

Its lengthy final scene, which will most likely come to be known as the “K-Fry-C scene,” could be an effective one-act-play on its own, as its set in one location, and has only the principle cast members in it. It’s a master work of gruesome violent power, which is going to turn a lot of people off, but I bet they’ll never forget it.

McConaughey, coming off notable turns in BERNIE and MAGIC MIKE, owns the title role. He’s never been slicker or more in control than in this formal speaking, dapper, and, yes, charming part, and it’s hilarious that despite all the gore (both Hirsh and Gershon get the Hell beaten out of them right in extreme close-up at different points in the flick), he never gets a drop of blood on his stylish black wardrobe.

Director Friedkin can be stylistically difficult to pin down. Best known for the well-crafted classics THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE EXORCIST, his diverse body of work seems to have touched on every genre, but I’m not sure he really put a distinctive stamp on any of them.

When the website recently named Friedkin on the top of the list as one of the “best worst directors,” it’s hard to argue.

Still, he tackles the stupid scheme-gets-skewed scenario with delicious gusto here, even if cinematographer Caleb Deschanel’s camera seems a bit too in love, maybe more than McConaughey appears to be, with Temple’s visage. I mean she looks like she’s 11 years old! The nude scenes almost seem to be pandering to pedofiles. But then, I guess that's keeping right in line with the territory.

Yet after such a summer crammed full of repeated formulas, it’s actually refreshing to see a film proud of its tawdry-ness and unapologetic about delighting in the sick despicable lives of the very bottom 99%.

More later...

1 comment:

Steven S said...

Not seen yet but still remains top of my list, hopefully in the next month or so. Looks fantastic and hopefully lives up to its nasty premise!