02 January 2013

Best of 2012: William Friedkin's Killer Joe

Killer Joe
2011, USA
William Friedkin

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be writing about a number of my favorite things of 2012, as opposed to doing my usual Top 10 list. This will cover films, albums, songs, music videos, performances, or whatever else that pops into my head

Though we'll always run into annual technicalities of whether a film belongs in X or Y year as a result of final quarter festival screenings, the fact that William Friedkin's adaptation of Tracy Letts' play Killer Joe didn't play anywhere outside of a few festival screenings in the fall of 2011 (Venice in competition and Toronto) makes it acceptable for me to proclaim it the best film of 2012. Killer Joe is feverish and shocking in ways you don't see often in cinema (these days? ever? I'm not sure). Friedkin and Letts had previously collaborated (brilliantly) on Bug in 2006, a film which finds a magnificent Ashley Judd being sucked into a claustrophobic, paranoid world by stranger Michael Shannon. Killer Joe has more room to breathe than Bug had, but it shares Bug's dangerous stroll down the line that separates wild, unsettling frenzy and overcooked rotten "camp." Just as Judd and Shannon nailed their parts in Bug, Matthew McConaughey (who has sculpted his body into a rather frightening, hairless mannequin), Juno Temple, and (especially) Gina Gershon do the same here; and as Harry Connick Jr. hit sour notes in Bug, Emile Hirsch rings a bit false, or perhaps a tad bland, in Killer Joe. With the air Friedkin gives the film to breathe, Killer Joe feels less like a film adaptation of a play than it does a perverse, dark-as-night fable children are told in a nightmarish, Night of the Hunter-esque version of the American south. The film's climax is truly a wonder to behold, and though I'm always a little biased when it comes to the admiration of Gina Gershon, her name should be added to the (long) list of "cryin'-shame" absences if it doesn't come up the morning the Academy Award nominations are revealed.

With: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church, Marc Macaulay, Danny Epper

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