Killer JoeReviewed By William Goss
Posted 08/07/12 09:26:20
(Worth A Look)
Itís a dark and stormy night, of course, when Chris gets a bright idea.As weíll soon discover, Chris (Emile Hirsch) isnít exactly a bright guy, but he is a desperate one, and somebodyís suggested a scheme too tidy to pass up. His good-for-nothing alcoholic mother has a life insurance policy, and heís in deep with the wrong people after she screws him out of his stash. The way he sees it, if he can get dad Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), sis Dottie (Juno Temple), and stepmom Sharla (Gina Gershon) to agree to split the policy -- for which Dottie would serve as beneficiary -- they can hire someone to pick off Mom and reap the benefits.
No one bats an eye at the prospect of executing the unseen matriarch, but thereís a little matter of money. See, Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a Dallas detective who carries out hits on the side, uniquely suited to properly dispose of any incriminating evidence, but he doesnít do jobs without payment in advance... an advance that Chris canít pay until the deed is done. For whatever reason, Joe makes an exception: heíll carry out his end of the bargain if he can keep Dottie, as touched as she is untouched, as a retainer.
From there, we watch the Smith clan squirm as they come to realize just what kind of devil theyíve gone ahead and made a deal with. William Friedkinís second screen adaptation of a Tracy Letts play, Killer Joe proceeds to walk a tonal tightrope of white-trash noir and humiliation, unfolding in a sweaty realm of strip joints and trailer parks, abandoned warehouses and amusement parks. Itís proudly amoral, darkly funny stuff that matches 2007ís Bug with its evident theatrical roots and eventual escalation into gruesome violence, and whatís more, it boasts a fierce, sociopathic performance from McConaughey that outstrips the rest of the admirably game cast.
Hirsch takes beatings well, Church perfects his hangdog demeanor to hilarious effect, and Gershon snarls and schemes about as effortlessly as she bares her own body. (From the first scene on, Friedkin doesnít, er, beat around the bush when it comes to earning the filmís notorious NC-17 rating.) For McConaughey, though, Joe finally marks an opportunity for the actor, already having himself a banner year, to take the suave cadence that landed him the lead in countless rom-coms and warp it into something deeper, darker, more determined, a sinister quality only hinted at a decade ago in Frailty. His trademark Texas drawl is more subdued than usual, especially compared to those of the local yokels, and his sophisticated exterior exudes a code of professional ethics in an otherwise dirty line of work. Itíd be far easier to see Joe as a personification of evil if it didnít seem like he were doing the outside world something of a favor by setting his sights on some short-sighted clients.
Furthermore, whatever he sees in Dottie -- an object of purity, a chance at redemption, maybe simply a kindred spirit in the land of those who arenít nearly as smart as they think they are -- introduces vulnerability into his volatile equation. The dysfunctional grace of Templeís performance matches McConaugheyís in their scenes together, and whether theyíre sharing a candlelit casserole dinner or at odds in a bloody confrontation, itís not hard to see a fucked-up sort of silver lining arise from these dire circumstances, an echo of Bugís suggestion that delusional, destructive love may be better than none at all.'Killer Joe' ends with a bold sense of punctuation, almost cruel to the audience and yet nothing compared to the cruelties on screen. While Christopher Nolan does all the corkscrews and loops he wants, the summertime blockbusters can't rival the big-drop rollercoaster audacity of this finely wrought mess.
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