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. On December 21st, Lionsgate brings William Friedkin's Killer Joe. Adapted from Tracy Letts' hit play, this graphic, unsettling neo-noir plays like The Postman Always Rings Twice meets King of the Hill; a dim-bulb redneck (Emile Hirsch) conspires with his equally dense father (Thomas Haden Church) to kill his mother for the insurance money, only to find the situation spiral violently out of control when he involves a dangerous hit man (Matthew McConaughey). Admittedly, this is pretty rough stuff, and Friedkin stages it with borderline perverse glee. But it's worth it for the power of Letts' words and for McConaughey's seductive, predatory work in the title role. In a year full of great character parts (Bernie, Magic Mike), his Killer Joe turn might just be his best.
Lionsgate also has Arbitrage planned for this week. Like the distributor's Margin Call, Arbitrage comes with a ripped-from-the-headlines story - a corrupt hedge-fund magnate finds his empire on the verge of collapse when a major judgment lapse threatens to reveal his past sins. It's bracing stuff, made all the more powerful by Richard Gere's towering lead performance. Despite his marquee idol looks, Gere has always excelled at playing rotters (Internal Affairs, The Hoax), and his Arbitrage work ranks as a different kind of evil, one both flawed and deeply human.
As Jeffrey Kauffman writes in his Blu-ray review, "I was sort of half expecting Arbitrage to be another 'weighty' drama a la Margin Call, but for me personally this outing with duplicitous high rollers on Wall Street was a much more satisfying, exciting experience. Part of this is due to the fact that Jarecki is working in several idioms simultaneously, and the cat and mouse game that takes up the central act of the film adds a nice thriller element to the proceedings that Margin Call never had (nor obviously tried to have). Probably also helping this film is the fact that it has one central character, one of the most fascinatingly shaded characters in recent memory, and one whom Gere brings vividly to smarmily elegant life."
December 31st brings one of the year's best features, the sci-fi actioner Looper. Director Rian Johnson already made a big splash with his Brick and The Brothers Bloom, but Looper finds him taking a quantum leap forward creatively. The film is an exciting and surprisingly profound thriller about a mob assassin (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) forced to confront his future self (Bruce Willis); while their interactions deliver the requisite action beats that Bruce Willis fans expect, Johnson gives this situation real pathos. Gordon-Levitt's angry young man is far more thoughtful than we expect, while Willis delivers a provocative twist on his normal avenging superman. The film takes its violent characters and their actions seriously, and Johnson builds everything to a gut-punch of an ending.
Finally, TV-on-Blu-ray gets another addition through the release of Justified: The Complete Third Season. The second season might rank as one of the great runs of television, with its depiction of the violent, darkly comic feud between U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and genially terrifying crime lord Mags Bennent (Margo Martindale), and Season Three, unfortunately, doesn't reach the same giddy heights. It's too sprawling, too unfocused, and new Big Bad Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough) doesn't have Martindale's tragic grace. But very good Justified is still better than most crime procedurals, and this new season still distinguishes itself through Olyphant's wry leading turn and some of the best writing on TV.
Martin Liebman's Blu-ray review notes that "The series doesn't show a whole lot of added maturity - it exhibited a few growing pains in season one and quickly settled into excellence in season two - but it keeps things moving at a pace that's both country casual and action fast. The acting remains stellar, the scripts polished, and the narrative flow intense. This is quality television that may not be the best thing going today but that does entertain its audience with great stories, strongly-developed characters, and, particular to season three, a dark and devious enemies roster that makes Harlan more dangerous - and more alluring - than ever before."