Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Killer Joe (2012)

Killer Joe (2012)
Dir. William Friedkin

4 out of 5

A down and dirty redneck opera, William Friedkin's Killer Joe is pure cinematic sin, the kind of film where every frame is dripping with bad intent. An adaptation of Tracy Letts' first stage play, Killer Joe finds Friedkin at his pulpiest while chronicling the misadventures of a young Texan drug dealer, Chris (Emilie Hirsch), and his lame-brained scheme to collect a big insurance payoff by hiring the titular hitman to kill his mother. Claiming that the windfall will be enough to secure the future of Dottie (Juno Temple), his virginal kid sister, Chris is able to convince his shrewish stepmom (Gina Gershon) and his half-witted father (Thomas Haden Church) to go along with the plan. But when the family can't front the money for the job, "Killer" Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) - who also happens to be a police officer - demands they retain his services by giving him personal time with Dottie.

Killer Joe is a tightly-plotted showcase for each member of its small, talented cast, but none is more impressive than McConaughey. Whereas he ably executed slimy self-parody earlier this summer in Magic Mike, he emerges here as a real monster, albeit one devoted to putting on unsettling gentlemanly airs. Resplendent in a black hat and leather gloves that scream "crooked cop," Joe has a mightily perverted sense of decorum. Even in the throes of extreme lust or apoplectic rage, he demands a display of traditional family values, his inherent brutishness eternally at odds with a salubrious facade that cherishes the inviolate wholesomeness of the family dinner table (at least until a viscerally disturbing - and perhaps excessive - sequence involving a leg of fried chicken). McConaughey's slippery charm pays dividends as he eventually does violate whatever shred of innocence is still left in this conniving clan of would-be outlaws.

It should be noted, however, that outside of McConaughey's honey-tongued monologues Killer Joe is crazy bananas. It's an uninhibited blast of black comedy that revels in the basest aspects of human behavior. What little sympathy these souls merit is generated completely by their stupidity, and their increasingly dangerous caper serves no other point than to get them all in deeper trouble. Yet Friedkin, the director of '70s classics like The French Connection and The Exorcist, pulls this off without condescending to his characters or the audience. Joe is the only one on the outside looking in, but he brings plenty of his own baggage to the situation and cannot escape the kind of moral judgement he applies to his employers. If Killer Joe brushes up against class commentary, it's entirely coincidental. Instead, Letts and Friedkin take some of the most exploitative material imaginable and spin it into a shamelessly fascinating exhibition of a twisted family with an equally twisted and inescapable fate.

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