Saturday, January 19, 2013

Killer Joe Movie Review

I can’t remember seeing a film so depraved, immoral, and pointless as William Friedkin’s Killer Joe, based on the play by Tracy Letts. Of course, I’ve never seen The Human Centipede, so there may be hope yet. I’ve seen it described as a dark comedy and yet I found no humor in it. It is full of characters so stupid, who make such bad decisions – life-changing decisions – without much thought, that it’s almost impossible to side with anyone. There is perhaps one exception in the form of a pure innocent young woman, but she is such an odd portrait of a human being that her entire character has no credibility.

This is exploitative filmmaking run amok. It’s not even fun exploitation like the B-classics of the 70’s that inspire so much of Quentin Tarantino’s work. He, after all, is a writer who understands character and motivation, which is much more than I can say for Letts, who also wrote the screenplay, based on Killer Joe. He might be the only playwright on earth who thinks it’s enough to have his characters want something to explain that they would do anything for it. And Friedkin takes every opportunity to show us nudity and graphic violence. One woman is introduced with a waist-level shot of her naked crotch. Are we supposed to marvel at the brazenness of the character, who answers the door without pants, or the filmmaker?

The violence is depicted in such shocking terms it is squirm-inducing for the hardest of viewers. Remember Tarantino’s camera moved away when Mr. Blonde cut off the cop’s ear in Reservoir Dogs. Suggested violence is not a concept with which Friedkin seems to be familiar. It almost makes me want to reconsider whether The Exorcist is little more than exploitation of a little girl – charges Friedkin has had to answer to over the years. He stages one scene of such appalling humiliation, degradation, sadism, and brutality that I had difficulty continuing. The Killer Joe of the title, after breaking a woman’s nose, forces her to perform fellatio on the simulated phallus of a fried chicken drumstick. You might find it in you to laugh at the absurdity of the scene, but apart from sadistic pleasure, I could hardly think of a reason for its inclusion and length.

That scene comes as the first part of the climax of a story that involves a young man named Chris’s (Emile Hirsch) attempt to raise the money he owes to drug dealers by hiring a contract killer to do away with his useless alcoholic mother for the insurance money. We never meet her, but everyone seems to hold her in extraordinarily low regard. The speed with which Chris convinces his dad, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), to go in on the deal is mind-boggling. Then it only gets worse when they both agree to offer up Dottie (Juno Temple), Ansel’s daughter and Chris’s sister, as a retainer in lieu of payment. Throw in Gina Gershon as the washed up and miserable second wife of Ansel and you have one of the strangest families in cinema since the deranged killers of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Under normal circumstances these are fine actors, but from an initial scene involving lots of yelling, the acting is so ratcheted up, so hysterical and theatrical, so forced, that it was grating on my ears. The only actor who brings anything serious to his role, and helps elevate the film at least a tiny bit, is Matthew McConaughey as Joe. He is simply mesmerizing in a sadistic and evil role. This is easily one of McConaughey’s best performances and he is ever-watchable in all his menace, even while you want to avert your eyes from some of the aberrant behavior.

Quite frankly, I don’t know what anyone has seen in this movie. I came to it through its reasonably good reputation and particularly on the strength of McConaughey’s performance, but I found an irredeemable movie replete with such dreadfully misconceived narrative inconsistencies and unexplainable character behavior that I was tempted on more than one occasion to rewind the disc to see if I’d missed some crucial explanation for why, for example, a character might enter a room to find his stepmother bleeding profusely from her face and, having absolutely no reason to know what has happened or why, doesn’t even blink an eye at the sight. Killer Joe strikes me as a grotesque and cynical excuse to throw it all out there.

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