The Black Bird’s Crime Film Review – Killer Joe
A Texas trailer trash tour de force of epic proportions! Who could possibly expect a film like this to issue forth from a 76-year old director? Well, when said filmmaker is William Friedkin (of The Exorcist and French Connection acclaim), maybe it’s understandable. Remember the oh-so-indecent crucifix scene from Friedkin’s 1974 opus? If that held you on the edge of your faux velvet seat in the revival grindhouse in its re-release, so will the superb uncensored shenanigans in Killer Joe. The NC-17 rating has prevented the flick from major distro in the U.S. But in my personal heyday of movie-going (the anxious eighties), this one would’ve been pegged an R. No doubt in my mind, folks! A double standard in that respect. A bit of well-placed full-frontal and some violence is necessary in my opinion, if you’re to successfully concoct a believable and gritty crime flick in 2012.
Though Friedkin often scripts his own flicks, this one comes courtesy of Tracy Letts, adapted from his early nineties play of the same title. On a background binge, one discovers that Letts is originally from Oklahoma, so it’s no surprise that his milieu is similar to Okie murder fiction master Jim Thompson. Plot-wise, Killer Joe effectively skulks the same po’ folk hell-holes as Thompson triumphed with from the mid 1940s to 1960s. Kill mama for the insurance money! One could go as far as to say that if you removed the modern conveniences of cell phones, that this flick could easily be set forty years in the past. A particularly nostalgic appeal to this one, despite it being current. Heavy on lighting and inventive camera angles instead of CGI and high-speed digital editing.
Before we reach the one-minute mark we’re greeted—in a Dallas downpour—at the motor home door by the fuzzy seventies pubes of Sharla Smith (portrayed perfectly by Gina Gershon). In for a wild ride and then some! The type of exploitation spills and thrills of the kind that have been sorely missed in large quantities on the silver screen for nearly
three decades. You’d have to go back to the early eighties, to something like Chained Heat (featuring Exorcist fave Linda Blair), to size up the sort of appeal Killer Joe has. A perfect combination of over the top brutality, mordantly horrific humor and dastardly accurate dialogue. Maybe the characters are actually more like celluloid caricatures—typical and cliché—the type you’d expect to find paying with a pocketful of pennies at the local Walmart or in the KFC drive-thru. But it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience. If you’re merely a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s contemporary chronicles of debauchery and have never prowled the backwaters (say reading David Goodis’ poetry of the gutter or watching Charles Bronson as the countrified bad-ass in Mr. Majestyk) you will dig Killer Joe. Friedkin and Letts let loose in similar fashion to past forays by scrivener Elmore Leonard and Italian sleaze/gore hound Umberto Lenzi (think Paranoia).
Casting is dead-on. Matthew McConaughey is the lead, a sheriff’s deputy who does hits for hire on the side, and he assumes the role to the point of being a shoe-in for Thompson’s character Lou Ford (protagonist of The Killer Inside Me). Could kill you with kindness, then turn around and slay you with sadism! Thomas Haden Church couldn’t possibly be more of a dunderhead white trash papa, Emile Hirsch as the greasy drug dealing kid and Juno Temple as jailbait princess of Killer Joe Cooper’s dreams.
What’re you waiting for? Go grab that family-size bucket of deep-fried exploitation goodness!
And what about the Sydney Film Festival itself? Saw Killer Joe on the second night, and was quite impressed with the fact that the SFF turned the lower Town Hall into a space to imbibe a bit of booze, mingle and view short films and celeb photos. Their willingness to help accommodate a newish site like WoW was commendable. (Sure, WoW is only an infant, but your humble Black Bird has been around the cult cinema block a few times!) I was worried that I wasn’t going to get the hook-up for Killer Joe, however, the tickets came through despite a warning that seating was already gone. No delays, no bullshit for this screening! -The Black Bird