Saturday, January 12, 2013

Killer Joe & Deadfall

I saw two films, a few months apart, which seemed unusually similar.

Killer Joe starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church & Gina Gershon; directed by William Friedkin; (2011) -  Official Website
Deadfall starring Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde & Charlie Hunnam; directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky; (2012) - Official Website

Killer Joe was the last film I saw at the Lumiere which closed on September 23.  I saw Killer Joe on August 28.  I saw Deadfall at the Landmark Opera Plaza in December.

The eponymous Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey) is a paid assassin hired by Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) and his father, Ansel Smith (Thomas Haden Church).  The younger Smith is in debt to loan sharks and is told his mother (divorced from Ansel) has a life insurance policy which names his younger sister, Dottie (Juno Temple) as the beneficiary.  Chris assumes if his mother dies, he will have access to the insurance money since he and Dottie are very "tight" (it's implied they are incestuous).  Hence, the Smith men hire Killer Joe to kill Adele, their mother and ex-wife, respectively.

Once the deed is done, the Smiths discover the beneficiary is not Dottie, but Adele's second ex-husband, Rex.  Furthermore, it was Rex who misinformed Chris about the life insurance beneficiary and told him how to contact Killer Joe.  Chris has been duped by Rex but Joe is more suspicious; particularly of Ansel second wife Sharla (Gina Gershon).  It turns out Sharla has been having an affair with Rex which Joe proves by retrieving some nude photos from Rex (who is presumably killed by Joe).

The Smiths were going to use part of the insurance money to pay Joe.  Without money upfront, Joe has taken Dottie as a "retainer" and after revealing the truth about the insurance scam, announces he is marrying Dottie.  Chris is vehemently opposed to this which sets up the climax of the film.

There is a modest amount of violence, much of it in the final scene, but Killer Joe is disturbing on a different level.  McConaughey is quite menacing with his soft voice & Texas drawl.  His scenes of "romance" with Dottie are very creepy, in part because is a child in woman's body (although never stated, I thought Dottie might have had a learning disability or some trauma which stunted her emotional development).  The other Smiths are the trashiest of PWTs - incest, conspiracy to commit murder, extramarital affairs, etc.

Although the content is pure Southern Fried Noir but director William Friedkin pushes the characterization to extremes and gets a few laughs along the way.  From the opening scene where Chris is greeted at his father's trailer by Sharla, naked from the waste down.  Let's just say Sharla doesn't get the Brazilian wax.  Funny, bizarre, disturbing if you think about it for long enough, Killer Joe doesn't quite take itself seriously which makes the bitter pill go down a little easier.

A memorable film, Killer Joe is populated by outstanding performances.  Gershon in particular gets A+ for effort.  The most memorable scene involves Joe interrogating Sharla as she slips up and has to admit, little by little, that she knows more than she is letting on.  The specter of violence hangs over the scene ratcheting up the tension.  It ends with Sharla doing things to a piece of fried chicken which my words cannot fully convey.

Deadfall also features two incestuous siblings, Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde).  They have robbed an Indian casino somewhere near the Canadian border around Thanksgiving.  Addison shoots a police officer after their car crashes.  They split up with plans to meet near the border.  Liza goes back to the road to be picked up by Jay (Charlie Hunnam), a recently paroled convict who has just killed a man in an argument (it later turns out the man lived by Jay doesn't know this).  Jay is off to visit his parents (Kris Kristofferson & Sissy Spacek) when he sees Liza on the side of the road.  He picks her up and his avoidance of the police suits Liza just fine.

Addison treks through the wilderness where he encounter a dangerous old man who cuts off his finger when Addison attacks him for his snowmobile.  Later he comes upon a small cabin, where Addison dispatches a drunk man who abuses his family which reminds Addison so much of his own childhood.

Using cell phones, Addison & Liza plan meet at Jay's parents house before crossing the border.  An intrepid deputy (Kate Mara) is tracking Addison by the bodies he leaves behind.  This lead to a climax at the dinner table in the house with Jay, his parents, Addison & Liza and the deputy all seated at the table.  This scene is reminiscent of the finale of Killer Joe.  Liza & Jay have developed feelings for each other which Addison is jealous of.  As the police are closing in, Addison & Jay have their showdown.

The film has a few interesting subplots.  The deputy is the sheriff's son and the only female in the department (which could use a refresher course on sexual harassment law).   Jay is an Olympic bronze medalist in boxing who fixed a fight and has a strained relationship with his father.  Of course, the siblings have long standing issues dating back to their childhood.

Deadfall lacks the self-aware affectations of Killer Joe.  It is a more earnest film.  The snowbound & isolated settings add to the sense of desolation all the character feel.  Killer Joe looks like Friedkin achieved what his goal was for the film.  I get the sense Deadfall didn't quite get to where director Stefan Ruzowitzky wanted.  Perfection should not be the enemy of the good and both are quite good films.

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