Saturday, 3 November 2012

20/10/2012: Killer Joe [2011]

I just finished watching Killer Joe, a film that has been dividing audiences as it made it's quiet way around festivals and a limited release, being praised by some and disgusting others. However I don't think William Friedkin gives a damn whether you like it and I think Tom Bonnington put it best when he said Killer Joe "not only disregards Hollywood’s current blandness but shoves its greasy, poultry goodness down the throats of an audience not ready to consume this neo‐noir masterpiece. Yet."

For those of you who didn't recognize the name William Friedkin, (Wow. Fried is in his name.) he is the man who directed the Exorcist, as well as The French Connection. He has been lying rather low for the last decade or so, but has made a powerful return with his on screen adaptation of Tracy Letts original play Killer Joe, which tells the story of a young man, who needing money to pay off his debts and save his life, decides to hire a hit man to kill his mother and collect on the insurance. As simple as the story seems you are going to sit in your seat and watch in excitement, disgust, humour, and a whole myriad range of emotions or else you are just going to walk out.

First off, I really can't define what type of movie Killer Joe, (I just typed Killer Hoe) is. Wikipedia calls it a southern gothic dark comedy, other calls it a neo-noir, some say it is similar to the work of Quintin Tarantino, others David Lynch and some say it's a mix of it all with a side order of chicken. I'd say that it contains elements of almost all of them, while still being its own beast. While personally, I'd say all of the dark comedy elements were lost on me, which is unusual because I like dark humour, some find this film rather humorous and I guess it can be if you consider the absurdity and stupidity of the story's events. However, this movie is played completely serious and with powerful scenes it isn't hard to see that this was indeed a stage play first.

The reason I can see that Killer Joe was a play is because the movie isn't about any fast paced sequences or quick scenes, almost every scene is drawn out and heavily driven by the actors performances. While there are some adjustments to make the plot better fit a movie, you can easily see this story being performed on stage. Because of this, Killer Joe is a slow-burn, taking it's time to subtly let you try and figure out exactly who the characters are, their personalities, their relationships and their motives, and with such fine performances it isn't something you have to make up.

Chris Smith, played by Emile Hisch, is the brother and son, and is not a very savory character, then again almost no-one is, and by the end of the movie you are simply debating with yourself which is the better of two evils. Thomas Hadel Church plays Aden Smith, the father, giving an excellent performance of a man who doesn't seem to have much of a backbone but is trying to make what he can in life. Gina Gershon plays Sharla, his second wife, and her performance is second only to that of Killer Joe himself. Juno Temple continues her rise to fame, giving a wonderfully innocent performance as the Dottie, the sister whom Killer Joe takes an unhealthy interest in and keeps as a "retainer". Lastly and most impressively of course is Matthew McConaughey who shakes off his rom-com typecast to create a dark, violent and silently terrifying killer, who shows no remorse and takes what he wants. The only question is what does he want?

I'm predicting that pictures of McConaughey will be a prime source of traffic.
Killer Joe is not a pleasant movie, even if you don't walk out of the movie in disgust, you aren't going to enjoy the movie. It's performances and characters are award worthy, but it's NC-17 rating is well earned, and something the filmmakers stand proudly behind. While such a rating has made it a struggle for Killer Joe to finally receive release, the filmmakers refused to cut anything, and make you watch in flinching horror as they steadily shoot scenes of violence which rival many of the more infamous scenes from the art-house side of exploitation cinema. (Yah, there's an art-house side) The nudity is heavy, and literally in your face within the first minute, while the violence is unflinching and bloody. There is no doubt that a certain fried chicken involving scene will be remembered for decades to come.

In the end, while I won't say I didn't sit through most of the movie watching with a quite horror at how unpleasant it generally was, I also knew that that was the point. Killer Joe is meant to cheer you up or suddenly restore your faith in humanity in the last ten minutes. It wants you to be uncomfortable, and to think about the darker side, the violent side, the dominating side of humanity that we all know is there, and without its harsh scenes and strong performances from the entire cast it couldn't have done it. There will be a lot of people who hate this movie, who for some reason expected something different and detested what they got, but if you know what your info, and understand what Killer Joe is going to do, you will appreciate what William Friedkin has made, you won't dismiss Matthew McConaughey again and your definitely not going to eat fried chicken for a few weeks.

Killer Joe IMDb

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