Killer Joe Review (Kirk Haviland)

Killer Joe (2012)

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon and Thomas Haden Church

Written by Tracy Letts

Directed by William Friedkin

Iconic director William Friedkin returns to the big screen this week with Killer Joe, his first feature since 2006’s Bug. The director of classic films like The Exorcist and The French Connection this time around brings us an extremely dark comedy of a murderer for hire that goes wrong in almost every way. Killer Joe may also be the film that brings us the most compelling performance in McConaughey’s career as the titular Joe.

After losing two kilos of drugs from a local supplier, Chris Smith (Hirsch) hatches a plan to get the $6,000 he owes to save his life. Enlisting the help of his father, Ansel (Church), mother-in-law, Sharla (Gershon) and sister, Dottie (Temple), Chris lays out the particulars of his nefarious scheme. You see Chris and Dottie’s mom, Ansel’s ex-wife, has a $50,000 life insurance policy that is all in Dottie’s name. Not having the fortitude to execute the deed of killing her themselves, the group enlists the services of Police Detective Joe Cooper (McConaughey), a corrupt officer that has a thriving murderer-for-hire business on the side. Cooper comes with a set of strict rules for business, one of which is that he gets paid up front in full that Chris and Ansell find out about upon meeting the man. Not getting the money, and despite his own rule, Joe becomes enthralled with the beautiful yet simple minded Dottie and proposes that she become a retainer on funds due. Dottie agrees, very reluctantly and without a lot of notice from Chris and Ansell, to the terms set forth by Cooper leading to a very sensual private dinner between Joe and Dottie. Of course things don’t play out as planned and Chris is left trying to scramble to find a way out for his now infatuated sister, whom he may or may not be obsessed with himself in a very non-brotherly way. And the already dangerous Cooper proves just how dark he can get.

Killer Joe is a very disturbed little film. The script from Tracey Letts does not fear to go where most movies would not. Equal parts wit, kink, and melodrama, Killer Joe takes a simple premise and does something completely original with it. The dialogue is original and crisp; a well-developed script that does contain a predictable twist towards the end, but the manner in which this twist is presented is both uncomfortable and hilarious at the same time. McConaughey is brilliant in the film. His Joe has a menacing nature in every moment he is onscreen, explosive and destructive in the blink of an eye, yet doting on the simple Dottie. Speaking of Dottie, Juno Temple does everything she can to steal this movie from McConaughey. Her performance mesmerizes you when she is onscreen. Temple has been putting together a great string of films and is definitely someone to keep an eye on. The rest of the cast also puts in some solid work, with this probably being the best thing I’ve seen Gershon in the last 10 years. The setting and set design resonate the desperation and broken down dynamic of the family at its core. Friedkin is a master at ratcheting up tension and not letting up when the audience is ready to let go, but exactly when he feels like it, which is epitomized by the final act of the film – it’s relentlessness. You’ll never look at KFC the same way again.

Killer Joe is a brutal and unflinching dark comedy that is also hilarious. Friedkin should be applauded for realizing his vision and doing it so unflinchingly. If you can handle it, Killer Joe is a definite recommend.

Killer Joe starts, hopefully in a theater near you, this Friday Aug 10th. Check your local theater listings for details.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films and festivals in Toronto.

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Savages Review (Kirk Haviland)

Savages (2012)

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro, Emile Hirsch and John Travolta

Written by Shane Salerno, Don Winlsow and Oliver Stone

Directed by Oliver Stone

After 2010’s disappointing Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps director Oliver Stone returns to familiar territory with Savages, the tale of a couple of small-time drug dealers fighting the Mexican cartels. Stone hasn’t been back into the drug trade since his infamous scripts for Brian De Palma’s Scarface and Alan Parker’s Midnight Express and has not directed anything as violent as Savages since Natural Born Killers. Unfortunately Savages does not come close to the mastery of any of those films.

We start the story with a voice-over narration from the character simply known as O (Lively) as she sets into place the specifics of the script and establishes that she will be our narrator throughout the film. She introduces us to her two men, Chon (Kitsch) and Ben (Johnson), I say her two men as she is with the both of them in every sense of the word, a pair of intelligent independent cannabis growers who have developed a highly successful strain of Marijuana. The strain is developed from seeds brought back from Afghanistan by Chon during his last tour in the Army. Chon is quickly established as the hard-edged muscle of the group, not afraid of dealing with any form of violence, while Ben is the softer more trusting side of the equation willing to trust that his buyers will keep their end of the equation. Enter Elena (Hayak), kingpin of the biggest Mexican Cartel who is desperate for Ben and Chon’s business. And her main general/right hand man Lado (Del Toro), a particularly nasty hitman who takes care of most of the cartel’s dirtier affairs. After being turned down by Ben and Chon for a partnership with the cartel, Elena targets O as the boy’s weak link and abducts her in broad daylight to coerce the boys into cooperating.  The boys had planned to go dark and get away from the situation with the help of their money launderer Speed (Hirsch), but after the abduction they squeeze as much info as they can about Elena and the cartel out of DEA agent and business partner Dennis (Travolota). The boys then head out on a bloody trail after the cartel to get their girl back.

I must say that I really wanted to like Savages. I had hopes going into this film for a return to form out of Stone as it was the type of story he knows how to tell very well. And for the first part of the film I was there with it, through preposterous parts and a terrible voice-over narration from Lively, I was willing to go with it to see where it was going. The pacing at least worked very well for me, as at two hours plus it could have easily started to drag. And of course with naming one of the main characters O you know the Shakespeare references/homages are soon to follow. Then the third act started and it all falls apart – boy does it ever. The performances from Travolta and Del Toro both work well, but they have done these same roles before, but in better films. Hayak’s character, or should I say caricature, is little more than a stereotypical cartel leader with breasts, we saw this done better in another Del Toro movie, Traffic. Our young leads manage to just ‘be there’ for most of the film, not exuding much emotional impact, and Lively manages to underperform them both. But even with these issues I was willing to go with it, until the third act which finishes with the worst ending of a film this year. Yes the ending (or endings) is that terrible. In fact, the more you think about it after the movie has finished the more you hate it, as attested by the flabbergasted group of us after the movie discussing it.

As much as I wanted to recommend this movie I can’t in good faith recommend it for anyone, the ending still disturbs and underwhelms me too much. Savages is a definite non-recommend. You have been warned.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films and festivals in Toronto.

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Contact me at moviejunkieto@gmail.com

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