I’ve always been a fan of cinema that pushes the envelope. I sought out films like Salo or 120 Days of Sodom and proudly own a copy of A Serbian Film. These films, both extremely graphic and disturbing in nature, also exist as art. No one wants to watch Monica Bellucci get raped for 8 minutes in Irreversible, but Gaspar Noé and other European directors want to create film that challenges you and forces you to really think about what is happening on-screen.
In America, films are not given the same opportunities to explore the darkness each of us holds within us. American film history is rife with examples of the public, the government, and the industry itself censoring and limiting the expression of these artists. So when a movie stirs up controversy about its explicitness, I naturally want to see it. I want to see the films banned in the United States and other countries. I’m not looking for titillation or porn, I’m looking for cutting edge stuff. Think of me as James Woods in Videodrome without all the Cronenbergian elements.
Death to Videodrome. Long live the new flesh.
I’ve seen many of the NC-17 rated films and have seen the most memorable X-rated films multiple times (A Clockwork Orange, Midnight Cowboy). So I leap at the opportunity to see one of these films on the big screen. I never made to see Shame, when director Steve McQueen boldly released it with an NC-17 rating, but I’ve seen it multiple times since its arrived on video. I saw Bertolucci’s The Dreamers for the simple fact it was NC-17, and if it weren’t for the creepy guy snickering behind me, I would have enjoyed the film a lot more.
When I visited Chicago last September, I made a point to see films my local theater had yet, and likely never, would show. The first film I saw was Compliance, a disturbing thriller based on real crimes. A man would call into fast food restaurants and convince whoever answered that he was a cop and force the staff to degrade and sexually abuse and humiliate a younger girl on staff. Like many disturbing films, it fell on the soft side too often and relied more on gimmick than story.
The second film I watched was the unabashedly NC-17 rated Killer Joe. I went mostly out of curiosity (and the review it for my girlfriend who was desperate to see it). The next 100 or so minutes were a blast. Here was a down and dirty Texas murder story based on the play of the same name. Sure, there was nudity and graphic violence, but the story kept your attention and never took a backseat to spectacle.
Killer Joe finds loser Chris (Emile Hirsch) owning $6000 to some people none too pleased that he can’t pay it back. With the help of his father Ansel (the always enjoyable Thomas Haden Church), Chris hires a cop that kills people on the side. In walks Killer Joe Cooper, played ferociously by Matthew McConaughey. A Dallas cop that is as ruthless as he is calm. Chris wants to collect on his mother’s life insurance policy and wants Joe to do the job. Problem is since Chris can’t afford to pay him upfront, Joe decides Chris’s younger sister would be an excellent retainer. From there, the story shows us just what Joe’s intentions are as we pull back the curtain on this extremely dysfunctional family.
Even at it’s most graphic, the film has a voice worth hearing. The sprinkling of dark humor allows for the film to really roll around in the filth the story describes. The climactic scene involving some fried chicken is not something easily forgotten. Director William Friedkin is no stranger to controversy. Having directed The Exorcist back in 1973, he knows how to keep the story compelling. And compelling it is. I’m so happy that the Blu-ray kept the film intact, unlike the DVD that has a more sanitized version.
I’ll watch this movie over and over. It’s one of my favorite films of this year. Mostly because I’ve never seen McConaughey play a character so interesting. The film is not for kids, and possible not even for some adults, but it’s a movie that really stands out from the films I’ve seen this year. 3.5 out of 5 stars.