Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Texas Flood of Blood: Matthew McConaughey is Killer Joe

Movie Review: Killer Joe

Director: William Friedkin

Reviewed: 17 February 2013

jamesintexas rating--***

Matthew McConaughey is Joe Cooper, a cop who is also a killer for hire in the desolate Texas wasteland outside of Dallas.  He meets Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) in a few destitute spots to discuss business: the killing of Chris's mom for the insurance money.  They meet in an abandoned pool hall; they meet in an abandoned amusement park.  Chris owes bad men money, men who will chase him down and bury him alive if he does not pay.  His own father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) cannot help him come up with the cash and has none to give.  Ansel's wife Sharla (Gina Gershon) seems to have an allergic reaction to Chris and violently attacks him whenever in the same room, and then there's younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple).  Dottie lives in the trailer park inside her cocoon of a room, filled to the brim with stuffed animals and dollhouses.  She seems a bit off, unaware of her surroundings, prone to sleep-talking, and the beneficiary of the mom's life insurance policy.

Director William Friedkin throws all of these ingredients in a cooking pot and turns up the heat: guns, bikers, lightning crashes, beat-downs, and Joe's taking of Dottie as his retainer.  "Killer Joe" is a pulpy stew of the most lurid kind with its elements of film noir refracted through the world of the trailer park.  Based on a Tracy Letts's play that I am not familiar with, it seems stagey in certain scenes, but Friedkin effectively uses parking lots, offices, restaurants, and public places to give reprieve from the oppressive trailer park dining room that occupies the last thirty minutes of the film.  Friedkin inserts beautiful shots of blue lightning illuminating the dark Texas sky, and he cranks up the tension quite well in the final out of control thirty minutes.  The pit bull that stops barking when it sees Joe is a nice touch that becomes a touchstone throughout the film.  Thomas Haden Church is wonderfully dumb as Ansel, a man pushed around by nearly everyone in his life.  McConaughey is darkly magnetic, and he almost pulls off some of the audacious work in the final scenes. Hirsch's histrionic acting seems a bit much to me, though my eye is always drawn to him as a younger Leonardo DiCaprio.  He takes a ton of abuse in this film, wearing a bloody, black and blue face like a mask by the end.

The real charge of this film is how the final scene illuminates nearly every scene that came before it.  Friedkin reveals a character to be more than first appears, and the last line is a doozy.  Some of the big reveals are easier to see than others, and some of the twists are particularly twisted.

It does not seem like a compliment to call a film trashy, but "Killer Joe" revels in its own filth.  There is always a bunch of money in a film like this with desperate characters reaching and clawing over each other for it.  I would put "Killer Joe" in the category of New American Noir in the same breath as "Red Rock West," "The Last Seduction," and "A Simple Plan."

There are no happy endings, even in Texas.

1 comment:

  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 deserved a nomination for his role as the self-titled, Killer Joe. Good review James.