Saturday, December 29, 2012

Movie Review: Killer Joe (2012)

Killer Joe movie posterKiller Joe (2012) - Directed by William Friedkin; Written by Tracy Letts; Starring Matthew McConaghy, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon.

By Kenny Howell

White Trash Film Noir isn't the biggest film genre out there, but playwright Tracy Letts may have cornered the market.

Letts has been known for years around the theater world with his bold, daring plays like August: Osage County (for which he won a Pulitzer and was adapted into a film with an all-star cast led by Meryl Streep), Bug (which was made into a 2006 film) and his first play, Killer Joe.  But he is getting a wider audience now thanks to the adaptations of his plays.

Friedkin, who directed the film version of Bug, also brings Killer Joe to the screen. Bug was about two burnouts (Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd) who slowly descent into madness when they think their port-a-potty quality hotel room they gets a bug infestation, which may or may not be a government conspiracy. It was an opportunity for Shannon to show just how amazing he is, and for Judd to show she could still act. However, she couldn't match Shannon's intensity, so it held back the movie a tad, but it is worth it.

Killer Joe is a more elaborate noir story, with twists and turns until the final brutality of the last scene. All it's characters, except for Dottie (Juno Temple), are the weirdo scum that you knew in eighth grade that you were certain would stay that way forever. They have no compass for good or evil, and can cross the line at any time.

The story is a pretty familiar noir set up. Chris (Emile Hirsch) approaches his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) about killing his ex-wife because the insurance money would go to her daughter, Dottie. Chris knows of a guy nicknamed Killer Joe (Matthew McConaghy) that will do the job for $20,000. Of course, with all noirs, things don't go the way that they should, and chaos reigns, especially with a crazy ending.

The influences are obvious. I was happy to read after I finished the movie, that the three things I thought about while watching the movie - Blood Simple, Double Indemnity, and the pulp novels of Jim Thompson - Letts has stated as influences. The biggest one of those being Thompson, who Letts seems to take the same approach to characters.

The performances are delightfully over the top, especially McConaghy (Mud), Temple (Lovelace) and Church (Whitewash). McConaghy is equally parts suave, slick and creepy. Temple is also both sides of the coin, innocent and sexy, stupid and wise. Church's strength is deadpan idiots, and this is right in his wheelhouse. Hirsch (Prince Avalanche) and Gershon (Dealin' With Idiots) probably don't go far enough, but their work is serviceable to the story.

The only thing that holds the movie back is the stage dialogue, but once you settle in after the first act, you melt into the world. However, the first couple of scenes seem like the actors are playing to an audience that aren't there.

Rating: ***1/2

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