Thursday, August 09, 2012

Killer Joe

Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Killer Joe might not quite merit stylish (unless you find Texas trailer trash stylish), but it certainly qualifies on both cynical attitude and sexual motivations. Killer Joe also qualifies in terms of its plot about people forced into desperate situations, making decisions that put them onto the wrong side of the law and trying to find their own way out of the predicament.

Chis Smith is the sort of guy who is in debt to a drug dealer, has had his stash stolen and wakes everyone in the middle of the night to tell them about his plan to hire a hit man to kill his mother for the insurance money. Things go down hill from there as Chris enlists Ansel, his reluctant but equally dim witted father to help him. You would think a cop that is smart enough to moonlight as a hit man would run a mile once he caught a sniff of this penniless, incompetent duo; but Joe Cooper catches sight of Chris's apparently naive sister Dotty and his lust for the cute teenager sucks him into the Smith family intrigues. In complete contrast to Dotty's sexual innocence is Sharla, Chris and Dotty's stepmother, who is the voice of reason in this dysfunctional family but has her own secrets and schemes.

Juno Temple as Dotty
I seem to be watching a lot of films featuring bad cops lately, last week's Rampart, last year's Coup de torchon, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, Point Blank and 2010's The Killer Inside Me. Joe Cooper tops the list as the most blatantly and melodramatically evil cop. His immaculate clothes and patronising smarter-than-thou attitude belies the fact that he is as venal and feral as the trailer trash he is caught up with. Any misplaced admiration you may have had for him is undercut by the climatic fried chicken dinner scene, which includes violence and humiliation that polarised the critics. It is not the most violent scene in the film but it has a visceral shock value that is enhanced because it doesn't particularly seem necessary to the plot.

Despite its low rent locations Killer Joe is stylishly filmed, especially the night scenes. Matthew McConaughey (who also played the district attorney in last week's Bernie) plays Joe Cooper with oily charm and Juno Temple is disturbing as the enigmatic woman-child Dotty.

Ian's rating 4/5

Killer Joe was preceded by New Zealand short film Hitch Hike, about a young man hitch hiking the roads around Huntly looking for his birth mother - where there only seems to be one car.

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