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When a debt puts a young man's life in danger, he turns to putting a hit out on his evil mother in order to collect the insurance.
For more about Killer Joe and the Killer Joe Blu-ray release, see Killer Joe Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on December 24, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, Scott Martin
Director: William Friedkin
» See full cast & crew
Killer Joe Blu-ray Review
Coen, Coen, gone.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, December 24, 2012
It's never a good idea to brand people with labels. Case in point: my eldest sister, who is quite a bit older than I am (well into her sixties now) was driving through a North Carolina parking lot when she evidently inadvertently cut off another driver, a young and apparently fairly hot headed African American woman who screamed out at my sister, "Watch out, you crazy crack ho!" Now, if you were to see my sister, she would hardly fall into a category one might normally associate with the colorful term "crazy crack ho". Usually pretty well put together and with a penchant for designer clothes, immaculately coiffed silver gray hair and tastefully understated makeup, few casual observers would probably ever refer to her that way, even if they didn't find the phrase inherently more than a little objectionable. But this anecdote has provided fodder for quite a few laughs through the years, and it occurred to me as I watched Killer Joe, a film based on an early piece by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tracy Letts (August: Osage County, which is due in its film form next year). Is it fair therefore to brand many of the characters in Killer Joe as a similary disparaged term, "white trash"? It may in fact not be fair, but who ever said life (not to mention film criticism) was fair? How else to describe the motley crew of trailer dwelling low lifes who populate this blacker than black comedy, a film that doesn't just swirl around the charming idea of matricide but which also includes hints of incest and just for good measure insurance fraud. Probably never quite the audacious "laugh while you cringe" fest it might have been under the direction of, say, the Coen Brothers, Killer Joe is still an often astoundingly visceral experience, one that first tiptoes around and then stomps through a number of taboos which may leave some viewers feeling bracingly refreshed and others wondering what the heck they've just witnessed, kind of like some "innocent bystanders" must have felt in that North Carolina parking lot when my sister was so inaptly branded an insane meth user.
Chris (Emile Hirsch) has found himself owing several thousand dollars to a local loan shark cum crime lord and feels the net closing in on him. He arrives at the trailer home of his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) and Ansel's second wife Sharla (Gina Gershon), in a state of emotional disarray. Also there is Chris' winsome and perhaps feeble minded sister Dottie (Juno Temple). The general tenor of the "family" is apty depicted when Chris, madly pounding the side of the trailer to get in during a ferocious rainstorm, is finally met at the door by Sharla, who is not wearing any pants. Taking just the briefest of moments to berate his stepmother for her obvious lack of decorum, Chris spirits Ansel away and launches into describing what will be the major hook of Killer Joe: Chris has found out about a Dallas police detective named Joe (Matthew McConaughey) who "moonlights" as a contract killer. It turns out that Ansel's ex-wife Adele (Chris and Dottie's biological mother) has a sizable insurance policy that names Dottie the sole beneficiary. If Joe can be hired to kill Adele, the entire family will reap a financial windfall while at the same time allowing Chris to pay off his vicious debt collectors.
Joe turns out to be cooler than a veritable cucumber, emotionally tamped down but obviously a man who is more than capable of carrying out the murder for hire plan. Unfortunately, Joe requires his money up front, something that Chris and Ansel hadn't planned on. However, Joe has taken a shine to Dottie and suggests an alternative: he'll "take" Dottie as a "retainer" until the funds are available. That sets up the major subplot of Killer Joe, as Chris' perhaps incestuous jealousy starts to cloud his already not very good judgment. And while the murder part of the murder for hire scenario goes off without a hitch, just about everything else in the madcap arrangement goes to hell in a hand basket, and then some.
While William Friedkin previously collaborated with Tracy Letts on Bug, the director might still seem to be a kind of odd choice for Killer Joe. Friedkin will probably forever be associated with his two early seventies mega-hits, The French Connection and The Exorcist, two films that deal in widely disparate subject matter but which both display a kind of gritty realism that is fairly far removed from Killer Joe's almost cartoonish ambience. While the characters almost seem like something out of a live action Tex Avery production, the basic plot is grim and extremely violent at times, so much so that more squeamish viewers may not actually be able to stomach some of the proceedings.
Still, there are some undeniable highlights in the film, especially the third act, after Joe has uncovered what basically amounts to not one but several doublecrosses between various characters, and assembles them all at a little family dinner that plays like Norman Rockwell on LSD. The performances are pitch perfect, especially Juno Temple as Dottie. Temple manages to be both innocent and, in the film's rather nasty denouement, a sudden proponent of "grrl power". McConaughey is also hilariously understated in his dialogue and affect, even when he's beating the living crap out of various characters. The humor here is obviously a decidedly acquired taste, skewed to those who might typically confront trauma and tragedy with a politically incorrect joke.
Letts is a writer who may not have a traditional author's love for his characters and instead deals with them at arm's length, with a kind of winking but casual disdain. There's nothing inherently wrong with this approach, and it does give his writing an unusually arch demeanor which many will find incredibly funny in its own dark, twisted way. But Killer Joe is a film without much to root for in the way of traditional good guys or bad guys. The problem with trash, whether white, black or paisley, is that it's typically a pretty messy amalgamation of waste that's been thrown away for a reason.
Killer Joe Blu-ray, Video Quality
Killer Joe is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. The original stage version of the film took place entirely within the confines of the family trailer, and the bulk of this film still is set in the often shadowy environment of a dowdy mobile home, to varying results. While close-ups feature excellent fine detail and nicely saturated color, a lot of the midrange shots in these interior settings are rather soft looking, lacking in really definitive contrast and offering less than fulsome color. Friedkin and Letts have made the perhaps questionable choice of significantly opening up the original play, though, with several sequences taking place out of doors, and those really pop with excellent clarity and sharpness, even if they deplete the claustrophobic momentum of Letts' original conception.
Killer Joe Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Do you want to know how you can tell when you're listening to an exceptionally vivid lossless surround audio mix? When you pause the film for a moment, wondering if that sound of a close by helicopter panning overhead is part of the soundtrack or actually happening outside your home theater room. That actually happened to me as I listened to Killer Joe's excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, in an early scene when Joe and Dottie are getting to know each other in the trailer and suddenly there's the distinct sound of a whirling helicopter blade clearly panning through the soundfield. There are several other standout moments in Killer Joe, including a couple of really explosive bursts of LFE, but the one issue that audiophiles may have with this track is that they are indeed moments, a second or two here or there where suddenly the surround tracks are completely alive with immersive qualities. The bulk of the film is taken up in much quieter, narrower dialogue sequences, something that obviously suits the quality of the film very well but which may disappoint those who want total immersion all of the time. Fidelity is excellent and dynamic range is extremely wide.
Killer Joe Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Killer Joe Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Friedkin's assertion in his commentary track that he doesn't judge these misfit characters may be at least slightly undercut by the branding of the trailer on this Blu-ray as "White Trash", and the fact is that most viewers are going to judge these characters without apology. There's a kind of smarmy quality to a lot of Killer Joe, and Friedkin at times seems to be pushing the envelope just to see if he can (why the gratuitous female nudity in a couple of scenes when it really isn't necessary, and why the extremely graphic violence in several key scenes?). But for those with a twisted and decidedly black sense of humor (and I freely admit I possess one), Killer Joe is undeniably funny in a cringe worthy sort of way. This isn't a film for everyone, or perhaps even for very many, but for those who are just as likely to crack a tasteless joke at an inopportune moment as they are to evince the milk of human kindness, Killer Joe comes Recommended.
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• This Week on Blu-ray: December 24-31 - December 23, 2012
With the holidays in full swing this week, the studios aren't releasing any Blu-rays on Tuesday, so this This Week on Blu-ray highlights four titles from December 21st and December 31st. December 21st brings William Friedkin's Killer Joe. Adapted from Tracy Letts' ...
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