Saturday, May 18, 2013

Killer Joe (2012)

Killer charm, Killer attitude, Killer instinct, "Killer Joe"! But it isn't just the eponymous character of "Killer Joe" (2012) that epitomizes everything that is killer, it is also this crackerjack of a dark comedy from old man William Friedkin who is back in terrific form with his recent masterwork that more than satisfies and earns him renewed respect from this reviewer!

Sure, the plot adapted from the Tracy Letts play is quite been there-done that noir kind of stuff; a plot reminiscent of early Coen Brothers flicks. But Friedkin still manages to make his film a cut above the rest in the crowd. A young punk Chris (Emile Hirsch) who owes some mean loan sharks a lot of money decides to get rid of his namesake mother Adele (Julia Adams) in the hopes of recovering $50,000 from her insurance, of which she has made her daughter Dottie (Juno Temple), the only beneficiary. And for doing this job he decides to hire 'Killer' Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) a cop who has a side business as a contract killer! It all seems too simple on paper, but dealing with the all-powerful Killer Joe is no mean feat! He has rules, and breaking them would mean knocking on death's door! What happens next is best left for the viewer to find out as the film's plot thickens, delivers relentless blows and knocks us out cold as we near its ultra-chaotic, explosive climax!

William Friedkin is in no mood to sugarcoat stuff. This is as brutal as it gets. There's stomach churning violence and some perverse sexuality with a rather unusual twist. Yet the film manages to induce loads of laughs, a nervous chuckle or two and makes sure the viewer has a satisfied smile on his/her face long after the film has ended. This is the kind of stuff that reminds one of Martin Scorsese's 90s flavor, particularly films like "Goodfellas" and "Casino" which showcased over-the-top violence and razor sharp dialog laced with laugh-out-loud hilarious dialog. Add to that the characters are mostly all loonies and weirdos right out of Bunuel's later surrealist works, with dialog that is either way too cleverly funny or absurdly comic and non sequitur. While the characters are all strange, they sometimes exhibit traits that make us connect with them and feel for them. It is these characters and their interactions that make the film much more enjoyable. Sure, some actions and decisions taken by the characters might raise a few eyebrows, but one look at these broken, trailer trash characters, and you would seriously not wonder so much. It is their fragility that makes them act that way. What takes place is far from unconvincing and we simply go along with it, waiting with bated breath as to where it would lead, despite some inherent predictabilities in the narrative.

"Killer Joe" is mostly a performance-driven film. The magnificent display of acting chops from the cast playing the characters is one of the stand-out facets of the film. Emile Hirsch is outstanding as the young lad who is in debt. His predicament inhibits his ability to think straight and his confusion is palpable. He also gets to mouth some of the choicest lines in the film. Thomas Haden Church with his ape-like facial hair and dumb gaze plays the stupid guy Ansel to the T. He trusts anyone and everyone and he seriously looks the part! 

The two leading ladies are even better. Gina Gershon who has always been a tremendous actress, unfortunately left behind among her peers owing to acting in mostly bad films, delivers one of the strongest performances in this film. She looks hot and plays the part of the manipulating, slutty step mother with conviction. A great performance indeed! 

And then there's Juno Temple. Words are not enough to describe this performance of an emotionally troubled young, coy virgin, who believes she was in true love in her third grade with a little fat kid. They never met in isolation, they never spoke about it, and therefore it was true love! In one of the film's funniest aspects she keeps reiterating that he was fat!  It is one funny as well as sad story in her life, that gives way to some developments in the story of the film. Temple is so amazingly natural, the facial expressions, the Southern accent (being an English actress), the mannerisms, everything! Your heart breaks when you see her sob upon realizing that her family is up to something and she'd been kept in the dark about it. Real gem of a performance there.

Which brings us to the leading man, Matthew McConaughey, the star of this enterprise with his godly performance as Joe 'Killer' Cooper. The handsome actor exudes a suave charm with his smooth-talking ways, his kindly mannerisms, his genuine affection and almost in the same breath turns into a fire-breathing, violent, maniacal monster and subjects his audiences to a shock treatment of another kind! One of the finest lead performances of recent times, this is quite possibly McConaughey's career best performance.

Making a unique motion picture out of a done-to-death story is one of the major achievements of "Killer Joe". It is the wonderful script and its unapologetic nature, the interesting motley of characters portrayed with strong performances, a strange mix of vile as well as funny events especially towards the insane, jaw-dropping climax full of madness and mayhem, not to mention the gorgeous cinematography, are primarily responsible for making "Killer Joe" an absolute winner. 

At the ripe age of 75 William FRIEDkin has given Fried Chicken an entirely new meaning and delivered a near-masterpiece! Do not miss "Killer Joe"! It is wicked fun...finger-lickin' good! 

Score: 9/10



  1. Let us at this movie. We love a good Friedkin. Is Mr. McConaughey (with this and "Mud") finally living up to the promise of his early career? Excellent review, Sir--you have done what a good reviewer should do.

    1. Well thank you so much Las Mayanas.
      Your kind words much appreciated. I am yet to see Mud, but planning on watching it soon.

      Thanks again!

  2. Nice review Aditya. The cast was all good but Matthew McConaughey is by far the best, fixating your attention every time he appears on screen.