“Killer Joe”

Paleo Retiree writes:

McConaughey and Gershon have a little something they need to work out

A white-trash/noir, doublecrossin’, absurdist melodrama, directed by William Friedkin from a Tracy Letts play that The Question Lady and I also loved. Friedkin may be in his 70s but he has made an energized and outrageous film — juicy, horrifying, shocking, and funny in a downtown-theater/youthful-cult-movie kind of way.

Small tonal note: “Killer Joe” is darker, more intense and less campy than many of the cult-type movies we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years. Friedkin’s a true man of his era. He doesn’t have the modern guy’s instinct to resort to distance, cool and amusement. His instinct is to go for the jugular: When in doubt, don’t back off; instead, push things even further. The goal here is to upset people, and in a way that’s both good and evil. Tracy Letts is one of the best writers-for-actors around, in a class (IMHO, of course) with Mamet and Shepard. He knows what performers need and he gives them a lot of it to go wild on. (His instinct for what the audience needs is pretty darned good too.) Chicago theater, baby. Caleb Deschanel’s tender/harsh cinematography is attentive to atmosphere and psychology in a way that shows the values of the project off beautifully.

In the way it combines absurdism, humor and intensity, and in the way the original stage play has been opened up, “Killer Joe” demands comparison not just to “Bug,” another Friedkin/Letts collaboration that I adored, but also to the less-successful Robert Altman film of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love.” (Hey, the DVD of “Bug” is currently only $6.95!) Some of it’s like an effective film adaptation of a stage play but much of it is an interesting hybrid, defining and inhabiting its own satisfying limbo between the theatrical and the cinematic. Friedkin and Letts seem to have decided to move the play’s action around while at the same time cutting the film’s microuniverse off from the larger world around it. It’s a shrewd and successful choice, delivering the visual stimulation and scene-changes of a movie without losing the supercharged, screwed-down focus of stage space.

You watch projects like these (whether on film or on stage) mainly for the crazy moments, the intensity of the scenes and the situations, and for the actors and their performances. In all this, the film really comes through. Great cast, great casting. In the central, youthful-patsy role, Emile Hirsch gives the film’s least interesting character — he thinks he’s savvy, hot stuff, and he isn’t — a lot of convincing desperation, ego, and sweat. As the cool and scary Killer Joe, Matthew McConaughey dispenses with the heartthrob baloney of his recent rom-com career and shows off a charismatic, balls-to the-wall, freakazoid side. Gina Gershon goes to town with the scheming, slatternly and bitchy notes (although, needless to say, she’s seductive and sexy too) — it’s a seriously wildass performance that, like her perf in “Showgirls,” deserves instant canonization. Thomas Hayden Church shows that he isn’t just a masterly deadpan comedian, he’s also capable of delivering pathos and brooding depths. And as the film’s center-of-real-human-values, young Juno Temple (the daughter of film director Julien Temple) makes her character’s mixture of fragile angel, “Baby Doll”-style sexpot, and terrifying banshee seem to cohere and make sense.

Juno Temple: Turn-on — or terror?

‘70s-movie-style bliss — and to be avoided at all costs if you dislike shocks, four-letter words delivered with zing and gusto, gratuitous nudity, cranked-up-to-11 emotionality, and/or convincing bloodshed. There’s plenty of all the above. Since this movie goes out of its way to violate personal boundaries in all kinds of thrilling ways, politically-correct lovers of mutually-respectful relationships are especially discouraged from attending.

Bonus links:

  • An interview with William Friedkin. Great bit: “The important thing is not ‘Does it go too far?’ but ‘Is it effective?'”
  • An interview with Juno Temple and Gina Gershon.

About Paleo Retiree

Onetime media flunky and movie buff and very glad to have left that mess behind. Formerly Michael Blowhard of the cultureblog 2Blowhards.com. Now a rootless parasite and bon vivant on a quest to find the perfectly-crafted artisanal cocktail.
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9 Responses to “Killer Joe”

  1. Sax von Stroheim says:

    Beautifully put! I loved the movie, too.

    Great point about the difference between “70’s-style” cult movies and the made-to-order ironic cult movies that have become a major part of the American low-budget genre movie scene. (Which reminds me of something I was thinking about after watching “The Night of the Comet” the other day: when did filmmakers start to set out to create “cult” movies — as if “cult movie” was its own genre?)


  2. Thanks, great to hear you enjoyed it too. Super point about cult movies. Did you see that one doc, I think it was titled “Midnight Movies”? All about the history of cult movies, and really good and informative. Ben Barenholtz was clearly a major figure in movie history.


  3. Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

    Nice piece. Looking forward to seeing it.


  4. Blowhard, Esq. says:

    Saw this today and loved it. Reminded me of Jim Thompson. I’ll never eat a fried chicken leg the same way again.


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