Tag: thomas haden church

Killer Joe

Killer Joe (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Chris (Emile Hirsch) owes six thousand dollars to a local gangster and if he does not pay his loan within a couple of days, goons will be sent to kill him. Chris’ mother has just kicked him out of her house and, out of anger, he tells his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), that her life insurance policy is worth fifty thousand dollars. To get that money into their pockets, all they have to do is find a way to kill her. Rex, the boyfriend of Chris’ mother, tells Chris that he knows a man willing to do the job. For twenty-five thousand dollars, Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a detective, will perform the service. The only problem is that he requires to be paid in advance.

Make no mistake that although its premise has elements of a crime-thriller, “Killer Joe,” based on the play and screenplay by Tracy Letts, is a comedy so grim (but deliciously lurid), each chuckle is almost always accompanied with a feeling of guilt. All of the characters we have the pleasure to observe trade their morals for the possibility of getting a couple thousand bucks richer without a moment’s thought.

The performances are grating during the first twenty minutes. Hirsch as a desperate loser sounds as though he is reading from the script as he attempts to get his sister, Dottie (Juno Temple), to unlock the front door of their father’s trailer home so he can get inside. There is a lack of verve to his performance in the opening scenes and I began to question if he was fit to play the role. Hirsch and everyone else’s performances, however, is elevated once McConaughey’s cold and calculating Joe dives into the mix. When Joe speaks and tells a story from his past, the actor that has starred in a handful of flat and uninspired romantic comedies disappears completely. Since McConaughey takes a risk by not holding a level of intensity but actually playing with it, we almost feel his co-stars being challenged and wanting to feed off the unpredictability in front of them.

Although the picture does not shy away from putting the violence front and center, it excels in creating intimate scenes, most often between two people, under the guidance of director William Friedkin. It feels wrong to watch Joe and Dottie, who we can assume to be underaged, first converse about mundane topics, work up to flirtation over a meal, and eventually get intimate physically, but it is impossible not to want their scenes to continue because the script and the acting have formed a synergistic magnetism. Joe’s need to take the girl’s virginity and the girl’s unsure sexuality is such an interesting combination that it undermines the circumstances involving the possible murder.

And that, ultimately, is the main problem. The central crime in “Killer Joe” neither has the strength nor the off-kilter palate to complement the good, sometimes great, performances. If the individual scenes between Dottie and Joe; Joe and Sharla (Gina Gershon), Ansel’s new wife and Chris’ stepmother; and Chris and Dottie were taken out, what remains fit the description of a hundred bland crime pictures.

Another Happy Day

Another Happy Day (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Lynn (Ellen Barkin) and her two sons, Elliot (Ezra Miller) and Ben (Daniel Yelsky), come to stay at their family’s estate for Dylan’s wedding (Michael Nardelli), the son that Lynn and Paul (Thomas Haden Church) had before separating. Meanwhile, Lynn’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) and sisters (Siobhan Fallon, Diana Scarwid) worry about Joe (George Kennedy), the eldest member of the clan, because his pacemaker has malfunctioned. There is also some stress about Alice (Kate Bosworth), Lynn and Paul’s daughter currently in therapy for cutting herself, possibly not making it to the wedding.

“Another Happy Day,” written and directed by Sam Levison, is extremely frustrating to watch unfold because every drop of emotion comes off fake. There is a lot of yelling around the house about physical, emotional, and psychological abuse and is almost always paired with either someone walking into the frame and doing something completely idiotic or someone saying something completely insensitive in the scene that comes right after. This approach softens the majority of the material’s dramatic weight and so the picture never has a chance to make us feel involved.

We never get the sense that these people are a real family; they are dogs that have gone unfed for weeks and all they wish to do is take a bite out of each other. Now, I have been around other family gatherings whose members tend to argue a lot. They just cannot help themselves. Yet it is obvious that there is still love there. While they yell and release all sorts of unpleasantries, they are not afraid to joke around one another even if negative emotions have not yet diffused. It may be out of embarrassment, I don’t know, but at least it is real. Here, it seems like all loyalties are thrown out the window. It feels too movie-like.

For example, I did not understand why Doris, Lynn’s mother, treats her daughter like she is a nobody. Though it is true that everyone is in charge of his or her happiness (and unhappiness), the picture offers no reason why Doris is so cold. The writer-director’s decision to not offer an answer–or a hint–to one of the most curious questions is, in a way, an act of cheating us out of a possible rewarding emotional arc.

The singular person that may be worth our time is Alice. Although she is still in danger of relapsing into cutting herself when things get tough, I felt a strength from her when she speaks to drug-addicted Elliot, whose fourth time in rehab is for naught. It made me wonder if Elliot and Ben, the latter very attached to his video camera, an obvious symbol of a character’s detachment from reality, would have been happier young people if their sister were around more because she has such a positive energy.

Another strand that should have been explored further is Lynn’s relationship with Patty (Demi Moore), Paul’s wife. The two do nothing but get on each other’s nerves. Is it really that difficult for them to find a commonality in one another, even if it is superficial, especially if their son is about to have one of the most important days of his life?

“Another Happy Day” is far from a happy experience, not even in a darkly comic manner. It is a such a vortex of unpleasant commotion that I wondered what I would have done if they were my family. If I had to be around these people, I would probably pretend to die in a car accident while on my way to see them.