Killer Joe (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Killer Joe (2012)

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3 Killer Joe is a litmus test of how well shock scenes fare if you put one against another in sequence and drag the whole shebang out to feature length.  Initially, sure, I got some dark chuckles out of the story.  This movie does a hell of a job trying to live up to that incredible tagline: "A totally twisted deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story."

Murder story, not mystery, because the cards are on the table straight away.  Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) drags his useless father (Thomas Haden Church) away from his horrible new wife (Gina Gershon) to a strip club at 2 in the morning.  While father and son share a bonding moment in the cool hell of neon the younger proposes that they find a way to kill his mother, also papa's ex, so that they can claim the insurance policy.  The only snag, the money goes to Chris' sister Dottie (Juno Temple), whose purity may conflict with thee deed at hand.  She's more game than they could have thought, simply asking "What good is she doing anyone?"

Great question, one that plays back into this horrible family.  The phrasing is important because Dottie is wondering what her old momma is actively doing anyone.  I wonder what good this family has been to anyone, at all, at any point of the day.  This is the start of a twisted story, even before Matthew McConaughey shows up with a fixation for KFC fellatio.  Folks, as much as I love dark territory, this one just wore me out.

On top of an already lurid pile, incest!

This slice of hell is brought to you by the team of William Friedkin and Tracy Letts.  The two collaborated previously on the brilliantly paranoid post 9/11 horror film Bug, featuring a great performance from Michael Shannon.  Friedkin and Letts have a very fertile partnership and even though I was cold to Killer Joe, it's clear they bring out something unique in each other.

Friedkin, in particular, has never been shy about excess and faced with a "totally twisted etc." film allows him to indulge in wonderful cinematic flourishes.  The landscape matches the Smith's in terms of poverty and moral decay.  A constant hellish blue neon light blankets the city at night while fires rage out of control in the background.  During the day even the most well off spots in town look like they're one decaying brick away from collapsing into dust.

The partnership works well in Letts' favor too.  His dialogue and scenarios are given the room to roam free until they find their darkest,, and sometimes hilarious, conclusion.  My favorite is when Chris is confronting Joe (McConaughey), a detective who murders folks on the side and has been hired to kill Chris' mother.  Chris has been roughed up by a local moneylender and Chris screams at Joe, completely oblivious to the irony, "Aren't you supposed to arrest these killers?"  Joe gets in nice and close and chuckles, "Guess I like Digger."

McConaughey is a right creepy bastard.

Those moments of dark humor, as much as I love them and the look of the film, aren't enough to lighten the experience.  We're shuttled off from a moment of "Texas redneck" humor into scenes of incredible brutality so intense nervous laughter isn't an option.  The cumulative effect is less of a narrative and more of an endurance race trying to see how many more of these moments you can take.  It's in this sense this film, based on a play Letts wrote early in his career, reminds me of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, another deliberately grotesque work designed to draw an audience.  I'm not a big fan of Titus for the same reason I'm not big on Killer Joe, it's just too much to a "Look at me!" purpose.

Now, great renditions of Titus have been done (especially Julie Taymor's 1999 film), and I have no doubt this story could be reframed to greater effect.  What I do not wish to lose is the snaky perfection of McConaughey's performance as Joe.  He's had a hell of a year, and the way he plays Joe as a sadist who likes to clear out the detritus of existence from within is absolutely chilling.  His one attempt at tenderness when seducing Dottie is frighteningly plausible, touching on how destructive certain behaviors are if children grow up thinking they're normal.

For the rest, I couldn't work up too strong an opinion one way or the other.  I loved the look and dark humor but felt too beaten down at the end.  I have the feeling more folks will be able to feel a bit stronger, especially given some of the more lurid scenes, but for today I shrug.

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Killer Joe (2012)

Directed by William Friedkin.
Screenplay written by Tracy Letts.
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, and Gina Gershon.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. Very, very twisted movie but it also has some amazing performances from this small ensemble, and gets extremely tense in the last 15 minutes or so. McConaughey totally deserves a nomination for his role as the self-titled, Killer Joe. Good review Andrew.

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