Tuesday, 17 July 2012

killer joe (d. william friedkin, w. tracey letts)

This curious movie feels like something of an anomaly. In part Hollywood star vehicle in part faithful homage to Letts' play; in part another comeback movie from a lost great of the 70s. Where does it sit in the canon?

I didn't know Letts' play, but it feels as though the adaptation is probably not unfaithful, all the more so given that the playwright is also credited as screenwriter. As a play it does what it might have said on the tin: deep South, Southern Trash, Trailer Trash, Southern Gothic, etc etc. Not a million miles away from the work of Martin McDonagh, a world where little people have to make big but hopeless decisions. As such it has a cynical sheen and requires some grandstand acting. 

The latter is supplied in spades by McConaughey, whose performance drives the film. He seems to be having fun and Friedkin gives him license to go as big as he can. In many ways this contributes to the impression that this is an "anti-film". Where we're encouraged by the Michael Caine school of acting to believe less is more, McConaghy et all rip up the rulebook and hope that the camera keeps up. Similarly, this feels like anti-film because, no matter how well done the adaptation, it retains the resolute feel of a stage play, where dialogue is king and the narrative can be as overblown as it wants to be.

The strange thing about all this is that it kind of works. There's a verve and an energy to Killer Joe which means it rides the obstacles in its way and like a limo with a healthy suspension comes bouncing back on the other side. It doesn't feel like a great film or great filmmaking; it doesn't come across as a great play; but as a package it's more interesting than your run-of-the-mill Hollywood fare, perhaps because it's not afraid of being a bit rough around the edges.

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