Synopsis: When a debt puts a young man’s life in danger, he turns to putting a hit out on his evil mother in order to collect the insurance.
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon
Director: William Friedkin
Running Length: 103 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score (5.5/10):
Review: In the 1970’s director Friedkin turned our stomachs with his now-classic The Exorcist as he charted the demonic possession of a young girl and the effects it had on the people around her. Shocking at the time, The Exorcist succeeds because it tapped into some pretty deep fears that existed in relation to religion and evil. Friedkin’s latest effort, Killer Joe, also turns stomachs in a totally different way. With its icky characters and even ickier situations they find themselves in, it’s the blackest of black comedies that should be approached with caution.
After collaborating on 2006’s Bug, Friedkin and screenwriter Tracy Letts join forces again to bring another of Letts high-stakes plays to the big screen. Bug ended up falling apart because it was limited in its playing space but Letts has allowed the Killer Joe characters to roam a bit more. Still, it can’t get away from feeling stage-bound. Too often the set-ups and situations seem better suited for a live performance rather than a screen drama.
To his credit, Letts didn’t change much from stage to screen and maybe it’s because he’s well versed in screenwriting that the stage play was crafted with a big screen future. The decidedly dark dialogue gives way to some uneasy laughter and fairly soon the audience finds itself laughing at some pretty incredible revelations and proclamations. Though set it Texas, it has a very bayou feel as the characters all seem like they’ve emerged from a swap to tell their tale.
Friedkin has gathered together some interesting actors for this difficult work and the result is a mish-mash of styles that didn’t work for me. When one character would be playing a scene for comedy, another would be playing it for drama which created an imbalance. Perhaps that was the intent of the filmmakers but to me it seemed like Friedkin let everyone do what they wanted.
The worst style offender is Hirsch who provides one of the more overdrawn and reckless performances of 2012. He’s followed by Haden Church who never seems awake enough to get through the dialogue correctly. Both actors favor yelling their lines for no apparent reason and turning the melodrama meter all the way up whenever they feel like it. I can see where this angle would work with Haden Church’s dimbulb father figure but with Hirsch it just reads as bad acting.
The women fare better than the men in the film and credit Letts with creating two unfamiliar archetypes that easily transition to the screen. Temple is an actress slowly getting buzz in Hollywood (please check out the excellent Cracks for more on her) and after showing up briefly in The Dark Knight she takes center stage for a tough role as a girl that isn’t as simple as she seems. Required to bare the most flesh, Temple makes it work by countering the nudity with a fully drawn character.
Any actress that could be called (correctly) the best thing about Showgirls has to know what she’s getting herself into and Gershon again throws herself headfirst into her role. Her entrance alone is something very few Hollywood actresses would agree to. Furthermore, she bravely tackles (as we endure) a scene near the end which rightly earned this film a NC-17 rating – vile as it is. Bravo to her.
That brings us to Killer Joe himself and McConaughey mostly hits his mark as the frightening assassin hired by this family of trailer park nitwits. I’d say that McConaughey has been more effective in 2012 with Magic Mike and Bernie but even if he is sitting back on his heels for most of the film he brings to life a dangerous character with the best of intentions.
The NC-17 rating should clue you in that this is truly a film that isn’t for everyone. While it is strangely entertaining, the entire film felt like an endurance test of wills to see how much violence and debauchery we can take. In a film where plenty of blood is spilled and copious amounts of flesh is shown, I found myself longing for the days of little girls possessed by demons spitting up pea soup.