Monday, August 20, 2012

KILLER JOE (2012)

Written by Tracy Letts


Directed by William Friedkin


Where & When: Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena, CA.  August 12, 2012  11:10AM



Based on the first play written by the Pulitzer-Prize winner for "August: Osage County", Tracy Letts and directed by film veteran, William Friedkin, "Killer Joe" is an ugly, bloody and over-the-top black comedy that manages not to elicit much laughter but successfully creates enough brutally, repulsive images that will, unfortunately, stay burned in to your memory for quite awhile.

This story centers on a trashy, highly dysfunctional, Texan family with the first member we encounter is Chris (Emile Hirsch), a caustic young man with a short fuse, as he's banging on the door of his father's dumpy trailer in the middle of a rainy night. Sharla (Gina Gershon), the blowzy, second wife answers the door, not feeling it necessary to put on underwear since it's only her husband's kid.

Chris has been kicked out of his mother's house again for fighting with her but this time he had a very good reason; she stole his stash of drugs he needed to sell and now owes the supplier thousands of dollars he doesn't have. However, Chris has come up with a crazy plan to get the cash back after he's discovered that his mother has a life insurance policy with the only recipient being his teen-aged sister, Dottie (Juno Temple), who appears to be slightly damaged from some form of abuse. Chris runs his idea past his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) and they decide to hire a hit man to murder his mother. The rest of the family happily agrees to share in the financial windfall that will come by the death of this miserable woman.

The contract killer is Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a slick charmer in his black stetson and ostrich-skin cowboy boots, who conveniently happens to be a local police detective, making his moonlighting work much easier. However, payment is required up front, creating a snag in the plan but Dottie has caught the eye of the assassin, with him willing to accept her as collateral. As to be expected, nothing goes according to plan which leads to the inevitable bombastic blood-bath of a conclusion.

Although Mr. Friedkin is an Oscar winner for Best Director for the 1971 film, "The French Connection" which also won Best Picture that year but it appears his glory days are far behind him as his film output following that achievement has been spotty at best. His last film was another adaption of one of Mr. Letts' plays, "Bug" back in 2006 which was not well received and "Killer Joe" suffers from not being able to successfully pull far enough away from it's theatrical origin. No cliche seems to be spared in this script (written by the playwright), dripping with Southern-fried hokum as Mr.Friedkin has difficulty finding the right balance between a chilling drama and campy noir. This is most apparent during the controversial scene involving Mr.McConaughey, Ms Gershon and a chicken wing which earned this film it's NC-17 rating. This ridiculous, disgusting act actually doesn't make much sense and serves no real purpose beyond grasping for an outrageous moment through the graphic sexual humiliation of this low-class character.

In order for "Killer Joe" to have been more compelling as a dark comedy, it needed to be much more clear that this film was supposed to be funny as all of the disturbing violence and sexuality tends to overshadow anything that might have been considered even remotely humorous. Women don't fare too well in this either as they are reduced down to objects that are either to be bartered or battered by the men. I guess Mr. Friedkin is from the generation that feels that misogyny can still be a pretty funny subject matter. Say what you will about Quentin Tarantino but he knows how to expertly handle this type of dark material, as he smoothly combines the bloody mayhem with the right amount of deranged laughs while also managing to include several strong, empowered female characters in his work.

The actors struggle to make this nonsense believable but the only one who manages to leave any type of impact is Mr. McConaughey, on an impressive roll this year, following his strong supporting turns in "Bernie" and "Magic Mike". This actor has never been better as he delivers a polished performance, seducing with his angelic face, good manners and his soft-spoken, honey-thick drawl but uses this to distract from noticing the sinister glint in his eye, making him quietly intimidating and dangerous.

Perhaps "Killer Joe" might have worked more effectively in a small, intimate theater but as transferred to the big screen, this dark and violent film fails to function much as a comedy because there isn't a considerable amount of humor to be found in the up close bickering of these irritating, grotesque characters.