I recently paid a visit to my local cine to see William Friedkin’s new Tracy Letts adaptation Killer Joe. Hearing of comparisons to The Killer Inside Me, I settled into my seat expecting a similarly gory shocker (eating Nandos beforehand being a big mistake). Though there is gore by the bucketload, the film is tonally closer to last year’s thrillers Martha Marcy May Marlene and Snowtown, in that the film carries with it a constant sense of tension and dread.
Much of this is generated by the lead performance of Matthew McConaughey. The film follows McConaughey as Joe Cooper, a police detective and part-time murderer, who is hired by a dysfunctional redneck family to solve their money problems. The deed involves the murder of the family’s own mother, in order to trigger her $50,000 life-insurance payout. Doubting father and son’s word that he will receive payment for his services after the job is completed, Joe takes on the family’s young and unhinged daughter Dottie (played brilliant by British newcomer Juno Temple) as his lover. As the plot thickens; relationships between the characters become more and more twisted, approaching boiling point.
The real surprise of the film for me was Emile Hirsch’s performance. I had only seen him in The Girl Next Door, where he more or less carries the film. This however, could not be further from the bumbling awkward teenager we saw there. He looks to have matured a lot as a performer, and manages to pull off being the film’s anti-hero amongst an ensemble of powerful performances. The star of Killer Joe though is Joe himself, McConaughey like Hirsch enters completely new territory, having mostly earned his living in Hollywood as shirtless romantic leads. Up to now, McConaughey seemed to have forgotten his acting roots; beginning his career as the head of America’s most dysfunctional family in The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the series’ fourth installment). He finally grasps at his potential here, with a genuinely menacing performance. Friedkin cleverly exhibits the horrific depths his star is capable of, and proceeds to keep the audience on tenterhooks as to the consequences of every eerie glance and intense stare for Joe’s potential victims. I sincerely hope McConaughey now avoids slipping back into his old ways; though his next role as a male stripper alongside Channing Tatum in Magic Mike does not fill me with optimism.
The film’s much discussed ‘chicken-bone scene’ was as repulsive as proscribed, and to me was the culmination of the film’s built-up sense of distress. There has disturbingly been talk of laughter at that moment in some screenings, thankfully not in mine. It is true that the film is packed with dark humour; but in this instance, the audience seemed to interpret ‘the chicken-bone scene’ as I think it was intended by Friedkin and Letts – as a sequence of hideous humiliation at the hands of Killer Joe, whose mask of sanity has ultimately disappeared.
William Friedkin has had the reputation of being a hit and miss director, although in my opinion more hit than miss. Nevertheless, his recent work with Tracy Letts (Killer Joe being Friedkin’s follow-up to Bug, Letts’ tale of delusional paranoia), seems to have brought him critical acclaim, and possible commercial success with Killer Joe. After re-watching The French Connection recently, its good to see Friedkin making the films he wants to make, the way he wants them made, and seemingly being accepted for it again.
Killer Joe Trailer:
In other news, an article in this month’s Empire magazine drew my attention to the fact that there are now three Paul Verhoeven reboots in the works: Total Recall, Robocop and Starship Troopers. Robocop is the one currently gaining the most attention, following the recent release of a teaser promo. We learn from the video that Omnicorp, the greedy backstabbing corporation featured in Verhoeven’s sci-fi classic, will return in Jose Padilha’s 2013 remake. We also get a brief glimpse of the RC2000’s new suit; which the filmmakers have decided to redesigned in order to take a step away from the iconic original, filled fantastically by Peter Weller. This time around the half-man half-machine will be portrayed by star of AMC’s The Killing, Joel Kinnaman. Although Kinnaman is hardly the most famous name in a stellar cast that is set to include Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Laurie and Gary Oldman. The film is scheduled for release 9th August 2013 and it will be interesting to see if it can improve upon the often underrated original.