Monday, December 24, 2012

KILLER JOE Is Sick and Twisted Fun


- I love a great bugnuts insane movie, and KILLER JOE is exactly that. From director William Friedkin, the legend behind such classics as The French Connection and The Exorcist, Killer Joe is just a weird, depraved movie filled with pitch-black humor and some great performances. I wasn't expecting that. I knew little about the movie going in, and my impression was that this was some sort of dark crime flick. Little did I know that I was in for a movie that is dark, yes, but also balls-out crazy. Killer Joe isn't for everyone, but if you enjoy weird movies and want to take a walk on the wild side ... well, it's a must-see.

Adapted from a play by Tracy Letts, Killer Joe is film noir meets theater-of-the-absurd comedy meets grindhouse flick. In the film, we're introduced to a white-trash, trailer-park dwelling family in which each member seems to be various shades of mentally-ill. As the movie begins, the family's screw-up son, Chris (Emile Hirsch) - a low-level drug dealer, who's behind on his payments to a local crime-boss - convinces dimwitted dad Ansel (a fantastic Thomas Haden Church) to have mom killed. Word is she's got a hefty life-insurance policy, in which a large sum of money would, upon her death, go to spaced-out daughter Dottie (an equally awesome Juno Temple). Dottie agrees to go along with the plan, as does Ansel's current wife, the uber-trashy Sharla (Gina Gershon). Through his connections, Chris hires out a corrupt cop with a side-gig as an assassin, nicknamed Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey). Joe at first glance seems like a slickly-efficient killer, but as the movie goes on, we realize that his services can come at a much higher price than you might have bargained for.

The ensemble cast in the film is top-to-bottom phenomenal. McConaughey is just doing killer stuff (pun intended) as Killer Joe - steely-eyed, cold, calculating, and yet - beneath the cool exterior, there's a total psycho waiting to come out. Haden Church is a great counterpoint to McConaughey - a weary, resigned schlub who finds himself in way over his head. Same goes for Hirsch as a scheming crook who only seems to stay alive due to his seeming harmlessness and modicum of charm. Gershon is also very game as Sharla, who is sort of the trailer-trash Lady Macbeth of the piece. I'll also single out Juno Temple as Dottie. Dottie is a strange character - almost absurdly innocent and childlike, yet right in the middle of some very nasty, traumatizing events and rather horrible people. Temple plays Dottie to perfection, making her both empathetic (if only she could get away from her horrible family!), and yet also sort of psychotic in her own right (her twisted relationship with Joe is downright disturbing).

Now, a movie like this can fall apart if it relies on shock value alone. But while KILLER JOE has plenty of totally over-the-top, jaw-droppingly strange scenes - it's also anchored by some fantastically sharp dialogue. This movie has a great script that's clever and incredibly funny. In fact, despite the film's dark, grim tone - I'd actually classify it as a comedy above all else. The dialogue is really spot-on though, and the exchanges between these well-defined characters tend to really crackle. There's an almost Coen Bros.-esque rhythm to some of the scenes.

As for Friedkin, he pulls no punches with the film - showing the various depraved acts that occur in the film in all of their glory (or lack thereof). But what I like is that he gives the movie a streamlined, tightly-woven feel - no wasted scenes, no fat to trim. The film just has a very assured quality to it - never trying too hard. Essentially, in the hands of a pro like Friedkin, Killer Joe avoids many of the traps that a movie like this might have encountered in less skilled hands.

It's rare that a movie like this seems to just sort of come out of nowhere and offer genuine shocks and surprises. But this is one of those movies that, if you're a film fan, you've just got to see to believe. This is a midnight movie classic, a film that will be watched for years to come in dorm-rooms and movie marathons (and yes, the rumors are true - you'll never look at KFC fried chicken the same way again after seeing this film). KILLER JOE is a killer flick - dark, weird, funny, badass, and a movie that needs to be seen to be believed.

My Grade: A-

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