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This is about... hmm... about a father and son who want to kill the
mother of the family to collect the insurance money from her death, and
hire a killer (also a cop) who decides to take 'as a retainer' the
younger sister of the family while they come up with the cash to pay
him. It's always refreshing when your first though when this ends is -
where did THAT come from?
By far this is Matthew McConaughey's most WTF-bad-ass performance, with touches of Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet and even Anton Chigurh. He's such a fantastic, seductive, snake-like villain here, because after the first couple of times you see him, you're not quite sure where he'll go. Friedkin takes this material into some VERY dark places (I imagine based off of the play, once again like 'Bug' from Tracy Letts), and if you aren't offended after the first ten minutes, you just gotta hang on for the rest of the ride. It's a twisted-f**k film-noir comedy of horrors where morality is so screwed that you have to laugh to not recoil from where it goes ultimately.
The ending had me howling with laughter, recoiling in pain, and just stunned by McConaughey suddenly shattering an image he's built up for himself over the past fifteen years as a rom-com hack. It's his film, along with the unlikely-attractive actress Juno Temple, who has a seduction scene with 'Killer Joe' that is edge-of-your-seat. For those of us sick- bastards looking for something off the wall, it's one of the must-sees of the year. Not as surreal as Blue Velvet, but not as poorly-crafted trash as a Grindhouse movie. It's in an area somewhere in-between, and I can't wait to see it again.
Just off watching this last night at TIFF 2011, I am still reeling from
what I actually witnessed on the screen.
First of all, where has Gina Gershon been?? Her character was so believable in this, I almost forgot she was in Showgirls :)
I could say the same thing about nearly every other character as well. They all have such subtle personalities, it seems as though they are playing themselves.
As for the plot, it is somewhat standard fare, as the trailer could easily giveaway, however it's how it progresses and pans out, is the most interesting aspect of the film.
There are a few scenes which some will find very hard to watch (in fact, during one now-notorious scene, dozens of people left the screening I was at), but if you stick with them, you will be in for a... treat? I'm not so sure, but you will have never seen anything like it, nor will you.
For the cast's performances alone, I highly recommend this film, but if you are feint of heart, or become queasy at the site of blood, maybe skip it.
Killer Joe is directed by William Friedkin and adapted to screenplay by
Tracy Letts from his own play of the same name. It stars Matthew
McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church and Gina
Gershon. Music is scored by Tyler Bates and cinematography by Caleb
Deschanel. Plot finds Hirsch as Chris Smith, who because he is in
severe debt to local thugs, hatches a plan to bump off his waster of a
mother and claim the life insurance. Roping in the rest of his trailer
dwelling family, he hires Killer Joe (McConaughey), a cop with a
sideline in murder, but the Smith's have no idea just what price they
will have to pay for his services.
So pulpy, so amusingly dark, Killer Joe is one of those films that will sit at the top of many film fan's best of lists for 2012. Yet if someone came up to me and declared it one of the worst then I certainly will understand. Undeniably it has no widespread appeal, you either get it or you don't, you will either laugh along with Friedkin and his dark observations or you will feel the whole thing is just too ugly to be entertainment. Man it's good to have Friedkin back pushing peoples buttons!
Filmed in Texas in under three weeks, Killer Joe is a film that walks the fine line of misogyny and perversity for perversity's sake. But it never falls over that mark, even though these are scummy characters living in a scummy world, where there's sex and violence, and violent simulated sex and nudity; all of which is cloaked by a sweaty crime gone wrong caper. Much of the film is dialogue driven, rest assured this is very talky, but the director wrings out much tension and salaciousness from every character interaction, the slow-burn approach only heightening the sense of dread. When the finale comes, and it's a cracker-jack ending, there's an almost merciful release that it's all over. These are people you wouldn't want to hang out with ever, only there's Friedkin chuckling away to himself having made us spend an hour and forty minutes with this grime laden crew. If you feel like you need a bath afterwards, that's perfectly natural.
Friedkin has garnered terrific performances from a top line cast. Hirsch (powder-keg), Church (naievity extraordinaire), Temple (virginal piggy in the middle) and Gershon (bold and suspicious), are all giving disturbing credibility to the material, but as good as they are they are trumped considerably by McConaughey. One of the most frustrating actors working today, much like Cage, a ream of poor movies adorn his CV, but once in a while he throws in a performance of such genuine quality that it begs to be acknowledged by his peers. Here as Killer Joe he lays on a Faust like menace, delivering his lines with clinically calm precision, yet still there's a glint in his eye, we know a black heart beats there but he can charm a snake out of its basket, a girl out of her underwear...
Unflinching direction, bravura performances and neo-noir at its near best, one of the best films of 2012 so far. Well, to some of us at least.... 9/10
Famed director William Friedkin (The Exorcist) returns to fine form.
Killer Joe, directed by Friedlkin and based on a Tracy Letts
story/screenplay, is a fine rendition of the old player getting played
murder plot. A vignette of white trash playing out some worst case
scenarios with, thankfully, much more photogenic role-players.
The film hangs on the roles of three central characters. The protagonist is a twenty-ish down and out loser named Chris played by Emile Hirsch. Hirsch brings a much grittier less Bohemian Johnny Depp to the table and it works here. His character is smart enough to know he's in deep and empty enough to unwittingly dig his hole ever deeper. His younger sister, Dottie, played by Juno Temple is an extremely unique character. She's both high functioning and almost mentally deficient in her total naiveté' which we are led to think is a mental quirk. She exudes a kind a helplessness with natural beauty that can draw one in. Juno Temple, a relatively new face to American audiences, is quite effective in her portrayal of this integral character. Finally, Matthew McConaughey is perfect in what is actually a supporting role in spite of being the the title character, Killer Joe. McConaughey is in his best element where he is reined in from Hollywood bombast instead dripping with a sleazy lawman/killer persona. These three characters are this movie aptly supported by Gershon's conniving Sharla and Thomas Hayden Church's witless Ansel.
Killer Joe has a down and dirty indie feel which is totally right. The cinematography is immediate and not artsy in any way as if you are clearly seeing something you wish wasn't happening. The final quarter ramps up with a tour 'de force of the macabre supplied by McConaughey's character and taken home with a kind of surprise loose-end "wham-bam" finale. All in all, this really works and separates itself from more typical murder stories, recommended.
Killer Joe is a roller-coaster of a movie. At first it seems like a
dark comedy, then a crime drama plot starts to uncover, and by the end
it becomes downright terrifying. I'm a sucker for these kinds of movies
and Killer Joe absolutely nails everything it goes for. This kind of
story couldn't be pulled off without the right director. Thankfully
William Friedkin knocks it out of the park. You can smell the white
trash emanating from the screen. Every detail of every action is given
the right amount of attention; every shot has purpose. Not one second
is gone to waste. And in order for a story like this to truly resonate
you'd need competent actors, and I don't think you could find a more
perfect cast for Killer Joe if you tried. McConaughey is absolutely
mesmerizing as this badass detective who's a hit-man on the side. The
story revolves around a trailer trash family and their plan to exploit
an insurance policy on the husband's ex-wife because the son got
wrapped up in a bad drug deal, so they hire Killer Joe to do the job.
Little do they know, Killer Joe does not f*ck around.
It's a graphic movie but it's not gratuitous. There's a reason for everything that is shown. And the narrative slowly builds to an explosive climax that leaves you flabbergasted. Seriously, the final scene in this movie which is about 10 minutes long, is absolutely phenomenal. Shocking, riveting, unsettling. Matthew McConaughey is downright villainous in this role. It's hard to call him a "villain" because he's straightforward in his motivations, much like it's hard to call the family the "heroes" because they're a bunch of moronic assholes, except the daughter who just doesn't know any better. The line between good and evil is blurred to the point of nonexistence, with Joe epitomizing this duality being the half detective half gun-for-hire hard-ass that he is. It's quite poetic, really. The characters in this movie are scum, and they all get what's coming to them.
Killer Joe is a lot of things, but one thing it's not is scatterbrained. It's entirely focused and cohesive. All the genres it glosses over fit right into this depraved story arc, and it grips you to the screen from beginning to end. This movie certainly isn't for everyone, but if you can stomach Killer Joe, you won't soon forget it.
William Friedkin's Killer Joe proclaims itself as a "totally twisted,
deep-fried Texas, redneck trailer park murder story," but to be fair,
I'm not sure that is even an accurate summation. Prior to viewing the
film, I saw it called everything from, "sick," to "wild," to "weird,"
to "creepy," to "subversive," to "crazy," to just plain awful, and the
only one I can marginally agree with is "weird." This is one of the
strangest releases of the year, but I believe "sick" is a huge
I too feel the NC-17 rating this film proudly bears is a bit much. If the film lacked a full frontal Gina Gershon and Matthew McConaughey, I'm sure it would've easily obtained a strong R-rating. The MPAA's bias for sexual content over violent content is wildly known and just the fact that they oversimplify the violence in this film to "a scene of brutality" had me laughing. The film includes some of the most hard-hitting scenes of combat that I've seen in any other film this year, and I'd absolutely love to know just what scene the MPAA was referring to in the first place.
The film centers around the family of twentysomething Chris Smith (played fantastically by Emile Hirsch, assuming the type of role he should continue to seek out), a lowlife drug dealer residing in a Texas trailer park, with his dim-witted father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), his annoying step-mother Sharla (Gina Gershon), and mentally disabled sister Dottie (Juno Temple). Chris has plunged himself into debt with another local dealer, and consults his father about his biological mother and her $50,000 insurance payoff that would be collected by Dottie if she were to die. Chris proposes the idea to hire "Killer" Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a sleazy cop who also works as an assassin, to kill his mother and receive a cut of the insurance money, with him, Ansel, and Sharla getting a good chunk of the profits. However, things become incredibly twisted when Killer Joe begins to fall in love with Dottie, and how the whole family begins on an even steeper downward spiral due to a colossal misunderstanding thanks to Chris.
Every character in the film is despicable in their own way, either by the shameful atrocities they commit or just because of the fact that their motivation is hopelessly self-centered and shockingly shallow and inept. Thankfully, all these subhuman characters are played efficiently by first-rate performers. Emile Hirsch gives a convincing, dignified performance, in possibly one of the most confident screen roles in his adult life. Juno Temple comes off of Dirty Girl, a wonderful coming of age drama, to embody a wildly different yet extremely interesting character, seemingly taken advantage of due to her intelligence or lack thereof. And Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon are consistently wonderful in their roles, especially during the climatic half when they appear to be tested as actors all together. But the award-winning performance here goes to McConaughey, who is three for three this year, with roles in Bernie (another film looking to brew the idea of "Texas noir") and Magic Mike buoying him to an actor of near first-rate level. McConaughey's early career was plagued by a number of questionable romantic comedies and the occasional goofy action picture or two, but this year, we've seen nothing but him assuming roles of great confidence, always possessing a firmly dignified slickness and swagger that sets him apart from other actors who have just started recognizing their potential. It would appear that McConaughey just woke up one day and realized that time was fleeting and his real acting career could begin. I never thought I'd say this, but I couldn't see the role of Killer Joe being inhabited by anyone more quirky, unsettling, or thrilling as McConaughey.
There's also something seriously notable about the tension director Friedkin (whose most known work would be the iconic game-changer, The Exorcist) erects during the entire course of Killer Joe. I began to notice it around twenty minutes in, when I felt that I never officially held a comfortable position in my seat, rearranging myself every few minutes. Then, during the scene where Chris is desperately trying to outrun two goons on choppers, taking backroads, alleyways, and literally anything that will get him off the track of the two bikers, I became restless and enthralled. Killer Joe provides us with warm Texas sun, and blends it elegantly with the raw thriller aspects found in a typical film noir picture. The entire climax, taking place in the trailer of the Smith family, is tense and unnerving. This is when I began to realize that this story had been a play prior to a film and that screenwriter Tracy Letts had adapted it so quaintly to film that the transformation was almost not noticeable (even if it would've been, it still wouldn't have been a thing to discourage). This is one of the first, if not the first, time I've watched a film that I didn't know was a play until later in the picture. The fact that this film confidently branches out so far past the idea of a stage-play to the point of being unrecognizable from its roots is a huge accomplishment all on its own.
I close with a forewarning that while I feel that the NC-17 rating Killer Joe received is somewhat questionable, I state with caution that this is a very violent picture, with several sequences of brutality that nearly channel the lines of sadistic depravity. Friedkin, however, is sure to capture it through a lens of style, similar to how Rob Zombie beautifully captured the horrifying deeds of the three despicable murderers in The Devil's Rejects. The film's charm is indescribable and its execution, fearless and zealous, making this one of the most surprising and impressive motion pictures of this year.
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Matthew McConaughey, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, and Juno Temple. Directed by: William Friedkin.
William Friedkin's career has been up and down most of his career, I
guess it's because he refuses to sell-out and go commercial. His most
'Hollywood' film to date has been The Hunted, from 2003, but even that
was unusually muted for a film of that type.
His latest effort is yet another adaptation of a Tracy Lett's play (that's a male Tracy), after Bug in 2006, and is choc full of warped, in-your-face sexuality, bloody violence, and humor so dark only the most depraved viewers will find funny. In fact, it's more like a David Cronenberg film than Friedkin.
If you've seen movies like The Acid House, or the 1998 Todd Solondz face-punch Happiness and find them amusing through the gaps in your fingers then you'll be sick enough to fully enjoy Killer Joe.
Matthew McConaughey plays Joe Cooper, an unorthodox Dallas police detective who is 'hired' by petty drug dealer Emile Hirsch to whack his old lady and thus benefit from an insurance policy with his deadbeat dad (Thomas Haden Church in a wonderful performance) and virginal, oddball sister Dottie (Juno Temple). Only they cannot raise the money to pay Joe so he agrees to spend some quality time with Dottie until the policy pays off in waiver of his upfront fee.
It reminded me a lot of an Oliver Stone film called U-Turn, another Texas-based psycho-sexual murder plot filled with heat-waves and perpetual distrust, but was much more enjoyable. The perverse sexuality and dark humor really appeal to a mind like mine, and McConaughey's performance atones for his crimes in various awful romcoms. Joe is a supremely weird but mesmerising character. You never really know what he's going to do next but you can still see the cogs turning as he evaluates every new plot twist. Plus it has full-frontal nudity from Gina Gershon and Juno Temple, which I absolutely do not disagree with.
The film has been slapped with the dreaded NC-17 in the US, which massively limits the amount of theatres that will be showing it. But, indirectly, it will only turn it into a cult film, and thus a bigger success with its intended audience than it otherwise might have been.
I highly recommend that you a part of that audience, it's as far from Hollywood as Friedkin has gotten since Cruising in 1980. Even at the age of 76, he's still on top form.
Edit: I just remembered that U-Turn is actually set in Arizona.
"Your gonna pay me for a service that I'm gonna preform. Your gonna give me the particulars of her schedule, her habits. I'll act on them accordingly. I won't give you any details on those activities because the less you know the better for everyone involved." Chris (Hirsch) is in debt bad. He owes the wrong people a ton of money and thinks the only way out is to kill his mother and collect the insurance money. He hires a man named Killer Joe (McConaughey) to take care of the job. When Chris can't come up with the money needed to hire him they work out a deal. Chris soon changes his mind. I am a McConaughey fan...yeah I said it. I'll deal with a shirt off scene in every movie because I like his style and his movies are entertaining. This one is no exception and may be my favorite role of his yet. He is so sadistic and evil in this but also keeps his charm so you don't fully hate him. He is both over the top and laid back. The movie itself is very very violent and bloody but I have to admit that I loved it. There is some humor in this and you laugh when you know you shouldn't but thats the sign of good humor. This is a movie that could have been one dimensional but with the cast and writing it really goes deeper and while not a movie that makes you think the whole time it does keep you guessing what will happen next. If you can handle this movie then I say watch it. I really liked it. Overall, a very entertaining dark movie that I really liked but it not for everyone. I say A-.
Texan drug-dealer Chris (Emile Hirsch) lands himself in hot water,
owing money to a gang of big-time criminals. After being refused money
by his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), Chris comes up with a plot
to have his mother murdered, collecting the life insurance money that
he believes will pass to his sister Dottie (Juno Temple). To do the
deed, they hire police detective and part-time contract killer 'Killer'
Joe (Matthew McConaughey). Unable to pay his fees up front, Joe decides
to take Dottie as collateral, who he asks to spend the night with,
until the debt is paid.
Killer Joe's poster tagline reads 'A totally twisted, deep-fried, Texas redneck trailer park murder story', and really, that's precisely what it is. The central families sheer utter repulsiveness becomes the comedy vein that prevails throughout the plot, as we are greeted by Sharla (Gina Gershon), Ansel's second wife, opening her trailer door to reveal her hairy bush to a disgusted Chris. But Chris's loud-mouthed ineptness, Ansel's zombie-like idiocy, and Sharla's blatant man-eating are neutralised by Juno Temple's strange, quirky presence, and her submissive relationship with Killer Joe that is as unsettling as it is oddly sweet. It's a quite amazing performance, and her scenes with an almost equally impressive McConaughey provide the film's highlights.
If the film has a definite strong point, it is in the performances. While the aforementioned Temple and McConaughey will steal the plaudits, Haden Church's dumb, lurch-like performance reminds us why he was Oscar- nominated for the sublime Sideways (2004), providing a sympathetic character amongst Chris's waster and Sharla's trailer trash whore. It's a shame that the plot can't match the performances, and although the story takes a back-seat to the mish-mash of human monsters, this really could have been a whole lot more. This is Coen Brothers territory, taking place in that sweaty world of the Deep South, full of smoky bars, rusty trailers, cowboy hats, motorbikes and overweight, middle-aged men in vests, a modern-day noir world ripe with possibilities, one that I feel has been slightly wasted here.
But if you've ever wondered if a film's climatic scene would ever involved a woman performing fellatio on a chicken drumstick, then here is your answer. Killer Joe's final frames will undoubtedly divide audiences between those who get director William Friedkin's intentions to take things to Jacobian absurdity, to those who will feel it as a silly contradiction to the film early, more subtle black humour. It's a splurge of extreme, uncomfortable violence with a sprinkling of farce, as the true psychological unbalance of Killer Joe becomes evident. Myself, I found it rather hilarious, and it managed to cement what is really an average film with only spatters of inspiration into my memory.
Sometimes a performance in itself can boost a movies value and vault it into something spectacular, McConaughey provides the turbo to this otherwise solid but not groundbreaking vehicle of karmic retribution as Killer Joe. The movie itself has been said to be akin to Friedkin aping a Cohen crime caper and that description works. We have a crime masterminded by selfish, unintelligent and or quirky characters, we have the mid-west as our backdrop, and we have the metaphysical shadow of karma hovering over their every move throughout the film. Call it Cohen Brothers on whiskey. The characters themselves are all very stereotyped but I think Friedkin left that transparent enough. In other words, the stereotype was part of the wardrobe itself. The reason being is this is not about these characters in particular...this is about choices and consequences and Killer Joe is simply a vehicle of karmic arithmetic. All that aside, on any day, or in any movie, McConaughey's performance as Killer Joe is mesmerizing. He is the serpent...cold and dangerous but charming and in control, constantly. He weaves his restrained psychotic energy through the movie as if he was born to play this role. For as silly as this movie can be, this is a brutally adult movie. It is graphic and there is a barrel of bush in it. There is also an almost misogynistic undertone that I don't wish to defend one way or the other, but I will say that for the scenes to not play out as they did would be an injustice to the character that McConaughey plays. The cast all around is very solid. Thomas Haden Church is pretty terrific, Gershon is on point and I've never been happier to see her answer a door. Juno Temple is a lolita-ish young vixen who seems to be almost in a different plane of existence throughout the movie. This is a movie that will stick with you after it's over, the mark of a truly good movie. There's mechanics below the surface that have to be thought about and you have to discipline yourself for the eventual knee jerking that is bound to happen. Adults only. Would go well sandwiched between Blood Simple and No Country for Old Men.
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