Thursday, August 9, 2012

Killer Joe

KILLER JOE               B                     
USA  (103 mi)  2011  d:  William Friedkin                    Official site

Friedkin’s second consecutive film based on a Tracy Letts play, adapted by the Pulitzer playwright himself from his first work written in his mid-twenties, is a blisteringly dark morality play exaggerated to gruesome and grotesque proportions by poverty and family dysfunction, where the seedy, trailer trash atmosphere gives rise to violence, corruption, and blatant exploitation.  Initially, the first thought that comes to mind is the Quincy Jones song by the same title Quincy Jones - Killer Joe - YouTube  (5:10), but this is not in the film.  The jazzy musical score, however, from Tyler Bates underlies much of the psychological tension which draws heavily from the sophisticated, underlying groove of the soundtrack.  Shot in and around New Orleans, the film is notable for its distinctive locations, supposedly more than two dozen, where they always seem to be set in the middle of nowhere, suggesting life at the end of the world.  While there are comical elements that turn distastefully extreme, the film is replete with disturbing content, including graphic violence, sexual degradation, and some brutal mistreatment of women, likely spurring cries of misogyny, especially when used to comical effect.  The film challenges the concept of moral order, however, especially the male view, where resorting to criminal behavior (boys will be boys) is deemed acceptable so long as people get what’s coming to them and a semblance of social order is preserved.  At times the film borders on the ridiculous, adding a comic book feel to the woes of trailer park depravity, something along the lines of Frank Miller’s SIN CITY (2005), where sex and violence merge into a twisted and perverse sense of human outrage, which ends up being the closest thing to justice.

Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey) is a Dallas detective who moonlights on the side as a killer for hire, the stereotypical image of a man in black and an avenging angel who straddles the fence between human salvation and the worst Mephistophelean nightmare.  McConaughey brings a mark of distinction to the outrageously uninhibited role and is up to the formidable task of portraying the personification of evil, playing with unusual relish the moral cesspool he rises out of.  Repulsive and often shocking, Friedkin has created another one of his demented but always provocative horror stories, this one laced in noirish black comedy, often pushing the boundaries of absurdity.  Emile Hirsch, so good in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild (2007), may be slightly miscast here, the only weak link in an otherwise superb cast, is Chris, a lowlife, Texas drug dealer who couldn’t be more of a pathetic loser, always down on his luck, but now in dire need of $5000 he owes to a loan shark.  This sets into motion the family dynamic, as he’s been kicked out of his mother’s house and now comes crawling to his father Ansel, the irrepressible Thomas Hayden Church, excellent here as a passively subdued, always mentally challenged good ol’ boy living in a dilapidated trailer with his sexually extroverted wife Sharla, Gina Gershon, and Chris’s overly protected sister Dottie, Juno Temple, from Gregg Araki’s Kaboom (2010).  Both women prance around in a state of natural undress that borders on exhibitionism for Sharla, but Dottie is the virginal picture of innocence, an angelic creature unspoiled by the world’s darker impulses, where the leer factor enters into play with the audience, veering into sexual exploitation territory, conjuring up lewd and lascivious thoughts.  While the action centers around the men, the heart of the story instead focuses upon the women. 

Desperate to save himself, Chris comes up with the harebrained scheme to hire a hit man to murder his hateful mother, someone he and his father conclude nobody would miss, especially since Dottie is the sole beneficiary of the $50,000 life insurance policy.  When Killer Joe reveals his nonnegotiable $25,000 up front fee, the deal seems off until Joe suggests the idea of a retainer, where he takes Dottie as collateral until they come up with the payment.  These dumb and contemptuous degenerates, who continually bite themselves throughout in the ass, actually rationalize that “it just might do her some good,” cruelly leaving her alone for a dinner date with Joe that she never knew was coming, where the eerie horror of her sexual initiation recalls Treat Williams and Laura Dern in SMOOTH TALK (1985), only becoming more graphically deplorable.  When Joe moves into Dottie’s room afterwards, literally taking over the family, Chris is suddenly repulsed by his own reprehensible behavior and has a change of heart, only to find Joe is in no hurry to let any of them out of his clutches.  This is a film that wallows in its wickedness, relishing its accelerating maliciousness like an after dinner dessert.  The over-the-top, choreographed mayhem that develops is utterly appalling and absurdly ridiculous, perhaps even objectionable, but Joe has to be tarnished by his own wickedness for the final act to matter, as he’s no hero, but a thoroughly disgusting sewer rat.  While both Joe and Dottie are brought together by the most ghoulish circumstances of a Grimm fairy tale, the irony is that when Dottie’s Prince Charming finally arrives he’s a brutally efficient killer for hire.  McConaughey brings a fiendish delight to what constitutes male evil, yet his authoritative masculinity, as opposed to the bumbling and ineffectual father and son act, suggests he’s the kind of man women are drawn to, often without thinking, blinded and deluded by dreams of what they want to believe—that’s Killer Joe.  Beautifully shot by Zooey Deschanel’s father, Caleb, the film concludes with an audacious and sexually haughty choice of music Clarence Carter- Strokin' - YouTube (4:39) playing over the final credits. 

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