Sunday, 1 July 2012

Killer Joe (2012, William Friedkin)

When asked by Peter Bogdanovich on his decision to direct Dial M For Murder (1954) Alfred Hitchcock honestly replied, "When the batteries are running dry, take a hit play and shoot it". William Friedkin - 70s powerhouse director of The French Connection (1971), The Exorcist (1973), and Sorcerer (1977) certainly had his best days long ago with these masterworks, though remaining relevant, mark the fall from grace of a once great filmmaker. In 2006 Friedkin adapted a play by Tracy Letts; the film Bug was a polarising intense force that no matter what punters thought was undeniably the work of an artist flexing long forgotten. With new film Killer Joe, again adapted from a play by Letts, Friedkin operates on a similar level of distinction with Hitchcock's observation on a rejuvenating a career through adapting stage plays standing well.

Killer Joe will invoke devilish glee from some while disgusting and irritating most, in fact only viewers of strong disposition may withstand the onslaught of dysfunctional horror on display with one already notorious scene involving deep fried chicken being strikingly perverse. The film may not convert you to vegetarianism but it'll taint your view of poultry forever.

The plot is simple and one which the 'master of suspense' would surely have been lured to if he were still with us, with its 'perfect' scheme of murder, the dark underbelly of family ties, and its show stealing titular villain. Mathew McConaughey stars as the Dallas detective hit-man Joe Cooper hired by a young man and father (Emile Hirsch and Thomas Hayden Church) to kill their estranged mother/ex-wife for her life insurance. Chris (Hirsch) has gotten himself into dept with a local drug lord and needs a quick payout for his life. As Killer Joe requires his money up front without fail, money that Chris and his father cannot provide until after the deed, Joe asks for their daughter/sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as a retainer instead. As the simple plan of course spirals out of control and the ghastly family eats itself a part the relationship between Joe and Dottie grows in the most unsettling of developments. Calling Joe the villain of this piece is hardly accurate in a film that exclusively harbours degenerates of such a volume.

Killer Joe couls be the role McConaughey is remembered for, if not only for his shocking use of KFC in a brutal act of vengeance upon a key female character. But despite his superb take on the mild mannered psychopath it's not he who impresses most, that would be Juno Temple's inspired take on the troubled Dottie. Her performance channels Carrie White, and Holly from Badlands (1973) - a disturbed sheltered young woman still a girl, deeply abused and capable of great harm disguised by a haunting sheet of seeming innocence. Temple's performance is the key to this film of infinite dysfunction; her recitals of early remembered atrocities shock yet chill as they're delivered in her adolescent voice, her relationship with these atrocities not repressed and yet not understood. Her world view is warped yet no one in Killer Joe sees the world clearly, its characters devoid of any redemptive qualities with Friedkin and Letts pushing the limits of absurdist human behaviour to its sadistic foundations.

Some will criticise the film for going 'too far' and that may well be the case, but in a current summer climate of mediocre generic releases it's refreshing to see a bombastic director such as Friedkin running far from any fence in sight. In a world of advertising and expectations that would conclude Spiderman, Batman, and any other comic book franchises are the only exciting releases on this year I for one revel in a film that though far from a masterpiece isn't afraid to push buttons, to offer some welcome ambiguity, and to be fearlessly stark in a season of caped crusaders and unnecessary prequel tie-ups and reboots.