Tuesday, July 24, 2012

William Friedkin's back in business with the garish, ghastly -- and goofy -- KILLER JOE

After the bust that was BUG, the earlier collaboration between film director William Friedkin and adapter/writer Tracy Letts, it's nice to see this once-fabled filmmaker -- Exorcist, French Connection -- bounce back via another, much better collaboration with the award-winning screenwriter and
playwright of August: Osage County. Though almost identi-cal lengths, Bug was an overlong cornuco-pia of often crappy visual effects meant to mimic the losing of a mind, while KILLER JOE proves a slick and stripped-down machine fueled by plot and character and brought to staggering immediacy by Friedkin's crisp, no-nonsense direction; Lett's savvy, streamlined dialog; and a cast of pros who bring things to shocking life (and an awful lot of death). After viewing this movie, you'll never nibble another fried-chicken drumstick in quite the same way.

Mr. Friedkin, shown at left, begins things with combination of thunder, lightning, rain, fire, a barking dog, a black cat, and then a man -- knocking, banging, screaming for someone to open the door. (The exactly-what-is-needed cinematography is provided by -- surprise! -- Caleb Deschanel.) When someone finally does open that door, we're faced with -- ooooh, whoopie! (The full frontal in Killer Joe belongs to the ladies; the guys manage to keep things just under wraps.) From this rather delightful view, we're whisked into a plot that involves murder for hire, an insurance policy, and a family full of freakishly anti-social creeps held together, it seems, only by their anger and stupidity. Into this mix comes the contact killer of the title, whose day job is that of a local policeman. And if you didn't already know that this movie is set in a seedy, dirty-dealing Texas, would I have to tell you?

That contract killer is played by Matthew McConaughey (above), who -- after his work here and in Bernie and Magic Mike -- now seems destined for a whole new middle-aged character-actor career. He's riveting.

The family members, above, are played by -- in no particularly order, as everyone is so damned good -- Thomas Haden Church (as the father, center right) and Gina Gershon (as the stepmom (center left). Ms Gershon can, at this point, do the sleazy slut in her sleep, but this is no by-rote performance. She is, how to put this... immaculately sordid. Church is, as usual, a wonder and a delight: a big, dumb, lumbering lunk, all the sexier for his lack of brainpower, and all the sadder because it is clear that he somehow realizes it.

The film's conniving siblings are portrayed by Emile Hirch (above, left) and Britain's Juno Temple, of Dirty Girl (above, right), both of whom seem to be in their element. Hirch has never played more of a whiny, male twat (this is an accomplishment, performance-wise) while Temple, as the sweetie with maybe a few missing marbles, is aces. She's holds back just a bit (which, trust me, nobody else connected to this movie is doing) and so makes her character somehow pivotal.

It would be a crime to go into any of the many twists and turns the movie takes, but I will say that its last line is a mind-bending, flip-flopping amazement. Not that we haven't heard these exact words many times before, but, as we're often told -- where drama and comedy, tragedy and farce are concerned (and especially when they meet, as here, head-on) -- context is all.

Killer Joe, from LD Entertainment with a running time of 103 minutes, opens this Friday, July 27, in New York City at AMC'c Loews Lincoln Square and Empire 25, and at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema and in Los Angeles at The Landmark. In the weeks to come, the film will broaden its run nationwide. You can see all currently scheduled playdates by clicking here.

No comments: