Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Reel Review: KILLER JOE

After winning Oscars with THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971), and scaring the pants off the world with THE EXORCIST (1973), it seems odd that the name of director William Friedkin is scarcely recalled in today’s circles of cinema discussion. Now at 76 years young, Friedkin inserts his name back amongst the living with KILLER JOE; a sadistic, NC-17-rated film which is as disturbing as it is entertaining.
Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a drug dealer who is in desperate need of money when he discovers that his estranged mother has a large insurance policy which names his sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as the beneficiary. Chris talks his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) and stepmother Sharla (Gina Gershon) into helping him hire a hitman, Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey) to kill his mother and collect the payout. With no money to pay Killer Joe’s advance, the family puts Dottie (who is a tad mentally unstable) up for collateral.

KILLER JOE slowly builds up an unsettling atmosphere as the plot moves forward. A series of twists and turns unfold as Joe seduces Dottie and things start to go wrong for Chris and his family. The movie has two stories running parallel; the plot to kill mom, and Joe’s eventual psycho-sexual games with Dottie. Both stories mesh together brilliantly, and Friedkin spends a lot of time playing the characters against each other to drive the story. Friedkin lays out a sinister plot very much in the style of a 1970’s thriller, all while keeping the characters up front and personal. The dialogue is sharp but plain, and again, there is an aura of uncomfortableness that builds throughout the film which can damage anyone’s calm.
Acting is stupendous all-around. Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church are perfect as father-and-son, and fans of Gina Gershon since her SHOWGIRLS days will be happy to know that she can still bring the goods with her acting and her body. Matthew McConaughey gives an absolute chilling performace; cold, calculating, seductive and dangerous. As good as everyone is, the show is nearly stolen by Juno Temple; her mentally-unbalanced and innocent southern belle invokes sympathy and love, all while being afraid of what she might do next.

Despite the full-frontal nude shots and bloodletting through the movie, the NC-17 rating doesn’t really come around until the gag-inducing final scene, which proves Friedkin is certainly fearless when it comes to doing what’s necessary in front of the camera. But the real triumph of KILLER JOE is that no matter how un-ethical and un-likeable the family is as a whole, you can’t help but to hope that the characters as individuals manage to survive their bloody actions.


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