Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Killer Joe

KILLER JOE (William Friedkin, 2011)

Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) has little time remaining to repay six thousand bucks to some bad men or else he’ll be killed.  Desperate to remedy the matter, he approaches his similarly broke father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) with a solution.  His mother Adele, Ansel’s ex-wife, has a $50,000 life insurance policy to which Chris’ younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple) is the sole beneficiary.  All they need to do to set their personal finances straight is hire Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a Dallas Police Department detective who kills people on the side, to bump off Adele.

After agreeing to split the money four ways--Ansel insists his wife Sharla (Gina Gershon) gets a cut--they’re ready to put the plan in motion except for one minor problem.  They can’t pay Joe $25,000 for the service they want him to render until they get the claim check.  Joe is prepared to break off a business agreement with them, but he has his cold blue eyes fixed on Dottie and proposes they give her to him as a retainer.

The world according to KILLER JOE is a scuzzy Texas trailer park where the family plots to kill one member for a windfall and will pimp out another to make it possible.  The innocent in the middle is a weary girl already so jaded by what life’s dealt her that she signs off on her mother’s murder and embraces being sold to a contract killer because he shows interest in her.  The only person following a code is a moonlighting hit man. Say what you will about his ideas of right and wrong, but at least it’s an ethos.  
Transcending basic instincts is unimaginable when choices are guided entirely by the reptilian brain.  The stupid and venal characters in KILLER JOE cast fun house mirror reflections of a society seeking its best interests while excluding accepted principles. Director William Friedkin and screenwriter Tracy Letts, adapting his play, place the bad behavior in a dark comedy about the depths of depravity.  Like Wile E. Coyote assured that this time he’ll catch The Road Runner, Hirsch plays Chris as someone who thinks he’s smarter than he really is and has the bruises to show for his lack of good judgment. Church’s slack-jawed caricature of Ansel amuses as he serves as lunkheaded lackey to Chris’ would-be mastermind.  Gershon draws laughs with the brazen disrespect she shows her husband and stepson.

Temple interprets Dottie as a tarnished angel in seek of salvation however it may come. Acting younger and simpler than her character’s years would signify--her bed teems with stuffed animals, and the bedroom door is decorated with teen idol magazine headshots of Justin Bieber, 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN-era Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and others--Temple reveals the glimmers of youthful goodness that, if permitted to flourish, might emerge from this hellhole.  There’s no tragedy in the other Smiths’ bumblings, but her light hasn’t been snuffed out entirely yet.

McConaughey is funny and fearsome in the title role, the devil holding the family accountable for their choices.  Despite Joe’s capacity for violence, McConaughey presents him as the pragmatic businessman and courtly gentleman.  When he drops the cool reserve and southern civility in the intense final act, KILLER JOE produces a reckoning to make the unbelieving wish for divine intervention.  Under the sun’s pounding rays and the night’s garish neon and fluorescent lights, there’s no hiding from one’s actions in this provocative and wickedly humorous film

Grade: B

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