Friday, July 26, 2013

Killer Joe

Directed by William Friedkin.
2012. Rated R, 101 minutes.
Juno Temple
Gina Gershon
Marc Macaulay

Chris (Hirsch) is in trouble. The cocaine he’s supposed to sell has been stolen and he doesn't have the money to pay off his supplier. He suspects his mother, since she’s the only one who knew where it was and her long broken down Cadillac is suddenly running very well. Chris needs the money pretty quickly and he’s just heard about his mom’s fifty thousand dollar life insurance policy of which his little sister Dottie (Temple) is the beneficiary. He fills his dad Ansel (Church), now remarried to Charla (Gershon), and Dottie in on his idea and all are in agreement that it’s a good one. Not wanting to do the deed themselves, they hire Joe Cooper (McConaughey), a Dallas detective who provides such services on the side.

From there, the movie gets into some even more uncomfortable territory. Much of this surrounds Dottie. We’re not quite sure how old she is. She’s not as slow on the uptake as everyone around her thinks, but she’s plenty na├»ve and easily taken advantage of. When Chris and Ansel can’t pay Joe’s advance, he offers to take Dottie as a retainer. Let’s just say their “dinner date” can be tough to watch. However, that’s the twisted charm of this movie. It delights in parading an entire roster of unlikable people before us and mining the depths to which their souls have sank, if they ever had any in the first place. Dottie stands apart from the crowd, maintaining innocence despite doing things that would normally disqualify a person from being innocent. This is key to the movie’s success because even though we might not readily identify with this woman-child, we sympathize for her and find it difficult to lay blame at her feet. Juno Temple plays the role wonderfully. She fully personifies Dottie in the way this movie needs her to.

Joe is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He’s cold, calculating, and ruthless. The one trait that facilitates all those others is his complete lack of conscience. McConaughey plays it with a scary coolness. He’s always in control of the situation and is more than willing to make sure it plays out in his favor. He might be my favorite villain of 2012. Of course, he doesn't see himself as a villain, but a businessman following through on a transaction, regardless of what actions that calls for.

Besides Temple and McConaughey, the rest of the cast is also great. Thomas Haden Church is perfectly dumb, Gina Gershon is thoroughly skanky (we literally meet her crotch first), and Emile Hirsch nails it as the brightest of a not very smart bunch.

The twists and turns of our plot develop because of people we don’t, or rarely, see. This works because it fosters the notion that these people are not only in this together, but completely alone with one another. Any problems they may face will have to be dealt with on their own. To paraphrase Ansel, and a very old saying, they must lie in the beds they've made. They, and we, know that the cavalry isn't riding in to save the day and ‘happily ever after’ will be an elusive destination. Whatever happens is going to be determined by these few people we've spent all of our time with.

Eventually, things can get to be a bit on the outrageous side. I've already mentioned Joe's “date” with Dottie. Later, the way he utilizes a chicken leg is something I’m fairly certain the Colonel never envisioned. Then we get to that ending. It’s purposely ambiguous and will flat piss some people off. The standard question that lingers is did she, or didn't she? We can argue which for eternity, with evidence to support both sides. For some, this will leave way too much wiggle room. I suspect this makes Killer Joe a love-it or hate-it type of affair. Count me in the love-it camp.

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