Brief Thoughts On William Friedkin’s Killer Joe

As we’ve already covered Killer Joe as a part of Rob Girvan’s Edinburgh coverage I won’t spend too much time going over already covered material, but I did want to say a few words about the film, which opened theatrically this weekend, and which I enjoyed very much.

The at times harsh digital photography is perfectly appropriate for the ugly nature of the work. Bruised strippers and broken neons lights complete the frame, with the murky Southern (fried) gothic of Friedkin’s latest work the visually most striking work the director has produced since 1985 and To Live and Die in L.A. The stage-derived origins of the source material are clear too, with the dialogue-driven scenarios in keeping with the Tracy Letts play. 

The core performances are all fantastic. Emile Hirsch appears to be channeling a young DiCaprio, while Thomas Haden Church turns in his finest work for some years as the big, dumb patriarch of the clan at the heart of the tale. It’s within the core pair of protagonists that things really come alive. He and she, the titular Joe and Dottie, the deposit turned love interest are a visual representation of good vs. evil, the naive innocence of Dottie consumed by the mightily charming yet wholly terrifying force of nature that is Joe. Equal parts Mitchum and Peck, McConaughey has never been this downright great (the actor channels both The Night Of The Hunter and Atticus Finch), while star on the rise Juno Temple might just be the highlight of the picture. 

While the film does stray in to some pretty intense territory, especially i nit’s closing act, the whole work is presented in such a heightened and ridiculous manner that it’s impossible to take serious offence to. There’s a rich, dark as black humour running through, and even some slapstick too. Such moments are punctuated by opposing notes: see the very funny chase sequence, in which a pair of siamese terminators track down Hirsch’s Chris, before a quirky, comedic interrogation punctuates the earlier tense scenario and the bloody beating that follows. As a result, a hugely unsettling tone is present throughout: we never know quite where we stand. A supernatural bent is present too. 

For me the films greatest moment comes with a very subtle one. As Chris leaves the dead body of his mother alone in a car he closes the door, leaving the audience in the car with the woman for the briefest of moments. It’s a fleeting shot, but really struck a chord. 

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