Friday, August 31, 2012

William Friedkin: Killer Joe

Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe, LD Entertainment, 2012.

Brilliant and abrasive, 70s American master William Friedkin's new film Killer Joe is a blast of narrative ingenuity that feels like it could be the first film of a hot young director, it flows that madly. Adapted by Pulitzer-prize winner Tracy Letts from his own controversial stage play, visionary Friedkin transforms Letts' blueprint into a trailer trash neo-noir as energetic as his masterful film debut, the incredibly surreal Good Times (1967) starring Sonny and Cher.

Friedkin's mise en scene is deliciously precise, claustrophobic, stagey yet free in its visual dynamics and character movement. Its one of Friedkin's most important works, comparable in its own curious way, to The Boys in the Band, The French Connection, The Exorcist, Sorcerer, Cruising, To Live and Die in L.A., and most recently, his other adaptation/collaboration with Letts', on the mind-blowing Bug.

Matthew McConaughey, just as Michael Shannon in the aforementioned Bug, gives the performance of his career. Letts' preoccupation with men straddling the line of reality and insanity meets Friedkin's career long exploration of American masculinity in all of its great mystery; masculine violence is usually the transcendent climax. McConaughey's southern braggadocio is crystallized by his inception into this dark union. Psychopathic hitman cop Joe is one of this year's great characters, and the actor's interpretation of him is the stuff of legend.

All the other characters are perfectly deplorable in that sublime Cain-Thompson fashion. Emile Hirsch, Gina Gershon, and Thomas Haden Church are all at their blistering best. Multiple sequences spellbind with the power of Friedkin-Letts' cinematic marriage. But Juno Temple is the film's other acting revelation. Her naive, sweet Dottie is a femme fatale in reverse; her performance is amazing.

Master cinematographer Caleb Deschanel regally lights up the trailers and dive bars of Friedkin's vision. Tyler Bates' music score is textural and simple, perfect accompaniment for these savage rubes. The dark side of humanity hasn't been done this well in some time; Friedkin nails it with another one of his masterworks.

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