Thursday, January 10, 2013

Killer Joe (2012)

JohnnyTwoToes feels let down by a ruinous ending (in spite of a great cast)

Oscar winner William Friedkin has long been a Hollywood legend with some of the finest films to come out of Tinsel Town in a long time. He has done it all - from action, comedy, adventure to horror (Exorcist) and now comes Killer Joe, a truly disturbing neo-noir dark thriller with Matthew McConaughey as the title character. It's hard to know what Friedkin was going for in this one but it will be one for the book of the weird. 

Killer Joe is a Dallas homicide detective who moonlights as a hit-man. He has been hired by Chris (Emile Hirsch) and Chris's father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) to kill Chris's mother for her $50,000 life insurance policy. It seems Chris is deep in debt with the local crime syndicate and unless he comes up with the money, he is fish food. 

Killer Joe is the man for the job, but  Chris and Ansel don't really have the money to pay Joe for the hit. That is until Joe gets a sight of Chris's sister, Dottie (Juno Temple). Dottie is the sole beneficiary of the policy but is a little slow since the mother tried to smother Dottie with a pillow when she was just a child. Why make your daughter the beneficiary when you hate her so much you try to kill her? I guess the mother was trying to make amends. But since Tracy Letts script based on his play still runs with the idea that no one likes the mother, the idea of Dottie be the benefactor seems odd. But ok, let us accept that premise. Joe likes Dottie and says to Chris and Ansel, "We can talk about a retainer. I will see Dottie until I get my money." From there everything goes wrong. 

Matthew McConaughey is simply superb in this role. Joe is such a creep and McConaughey is so chillingly convincing as he "romances Dottie who is barely of legal age. "Do you trust me, Dottie?" Joe asks. "Not quite" , Dottie replies. "That's good", Joe responds with a icy coolness. He is not the man to piss off. 

The rest of the cast does an excellent job, as well. Thomas Haden Church garners lots of laughs as Chris's father who is as dumb as day old fecal matter. Emile Hirsch is superb as Chris, a kid who does not realize he is on over his head until it is too late. It was also great to see Gina Gershon in a large role as Chris's step-mother who seems to know more than she lets on. Juno Temple as Dottie has a sweet naiveness but, also seems to be smarter than people give her credit for. 

I liked Killer Joe up to a point. It's odd creepiness and dark humor generated some uncomfortable laughs and propelled Letts' script past being too morose but the final act was a total let down. Killer Joe has all of the elements to be Fargo-ish; something the Cohen brothers might do. But the ending had me so angry that I can't really give Killer Joe a hearty recommendation, despite all that it has going for it. 

Did Friedkin, who brought us such well scripted and directed films like The French Connection and To Live And Die In L.A., suddenly give up on the end? Did he just say, "Screw it ya'll figure it out." I don't know. But with a resume of such character driven films, these characters and audience deserved better than to be left hanging. For me, Killer Joe is a 'could have been good' film that seems incomplete and leaves you with a unsatisfied finish. 


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