Monday, 2 July 2012

Killer Joe 2011

Who'd have thought I would live to see the day when Matthew McConaughey would deliver an Oscar-worthy performance?

Wow.

Killer Joe is a very disturbing film that starts with Texan trash Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) plotting with his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), to get his mother killed. She is apparently an evil, self-centred woman, who never loved her children - but much more importantly, Chris has information that her life insurance is worth $50,000 and the sole beneficiary is his sister, Dottie (Juno Temple). Chris has a plan - they will hire cop/contract-killer Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to do the dirty deed. Not much convincing is required and Ansel agrees to this as long as the cash is also shared with his current wife, Sharla (Gina Gershon).

Enter 'Killer Joe', who is not particularly impressed with the family's low-life characters and their unpredictability but has taken a shine to the slightly unbalanced Dottie. He agrees to take on the contract only on the condition that Dottie is given to him, as guarantee for his fee. But now everything begins to get more and more complicated - and Chris's seemingly simple plan starts to fall apart. As if the family interactions and underlying dynamic weren't sickening enough, when Joe is displeased with the unexpected turn of events, he finds very unusual ways to teach the culprits a lesson. The last few minutes of the film will go down in cinematic history as one of the most disturbing scenes of all time.

The dialogue and style of the film in some places is very much like a stage play's. Of course as I discovered later, it is based on a play of the same name, by Tracy Letts. Its plot revolves around the five main characters, with barely a scene or two involving anyone else. I mention this as it highlights how important each actor's performance is - and how each has excelled in conveying creepy vibes! From the very first scene, Emile Hirsch establishes Chris as the free-loading loser whose harebrained schemes smell of disaster; Thomas Haden Church, who by now has done more than his share of chilled-out roles, adds multi dimensions to the slow-witted Ansel; Gina Gershon is eerily convincing as a trashy, ambitious, small-town woman with big dreams, who seems to be the only one with actual concern for Dottie's welfare; and Juno Temple is remarkably spooky as the slightly off-kilter, young girl, whose desires and lack of ulterior motives make her the only 'honest' person.

And then there is Matthew McConaughey, in a role of a lifetime. Yes, we all know he was excellent in A Time to Kill (1996), and we all loved him in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), but in between and after those, he has delivered sub-standard films and rolled along on natural charm and a smooth accent - not to mention, very 'smooth' looks. He seemed to have forgotten any acting talent till Lincoln Lawyer (2011). Of course, not in my wildest dreams could I imagine nice guy McConaughey, with the smooth accent, to be so bloody brilliant as a depraved, sick, psychotic, sadistic killer. Joe Cooper's impeccable manners are familiar, but Matthew's smile has never looked this sinister and scary. There is not a single scene with him where I was not tense, where I did not wonder how unpredictable the situation could get. He is pure menace in every frame. It is an unexpectedly flawless performance.

Like 2010's The Killer Inside Me, there is no good in this film and there isn't always a reason for why the characters are so depraved. There is enough crudity, nudity and brutality for the film to win an NC-17 rating in the US and an 18 certificate in the UK. But that doesn't take away from the fact that it is a very well-made film, with fantastic performances. Of course, my opening line mentions an unlikely scenario - characters like Joe Cooper do not win their actors Oscar noms, but if they did, Matthew McConaughey would completely deserve it.

Excellent film...but watch at your own risk!

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