Back in 1984, the brothers Joel & Ethan Coen introduced themselves to the world with a dirty, little slice of Southern gothic noir called Blood Simple. And while they’ve since served up such tasty gems as Miller’s Crossing, Fargo & No Country For Old Men, their first film in the eyes of many of the fans remains the best. I’d be hard pressed to argue that point.
The movie features the debut performance of future Oscar winner Frances McDormand as a Texas bar owner’s wife who is having an affair with a well-meaning if easily duped local. Dan Hedaya plays the abusive husband who is wise to his dearly beloved’s wandering ways. He hires a private eye (played to often hilarious perfection by M. Emmet Walsh) to get enough dirt on her to protect his interests from a future divorce. Backstabbing, blackmail and betrayal soon follow. People die. Often. It’s a perfect little movie done on a low-budget by people who probably weren’t sure if they’d ever get a chance to make another flick. The brothers put everything they had into it and squeezed every last bit of talent out of their cast. If you’ve never seen it, remedy that situation sooner rather than later.
The Coen Brothers classic is probably going to be easy for you to track down as it’s widely available on DVD and Blu-ray. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the latest film from director William Friedkin, Killer Joe. Saddled with an unnecessary NC-17 rating by the ever-myopic MPAA, most major theater chains will refuse to carry it. So if you live in a smaller town that only has a Cinemark, you’re probably shit out of luck. But if you’re fortunate enough to have an ‘art house’ theater that carriers all that Oscar bait come December, there’s a good chance you might actually have a chance to see this wonderful and darkly comic flick.
He’ll kill you…with a smile!
Like it’s cinematic cousin Blood Simple, Killer Joe is a country-fried Texas set noir populated by bad people doing terrible things to equally bad people and making poor decisions with dire circumstances. The titular ‘Killer’ Joe Cooper is played with almost charming menace by Matthew McConaughey as a Dallas police detective with a side business in murder for hire. He’s approached by a family of bumbling idiots and petty criminals to eliminate their matriarch whose life insurance policy promises to pay out $50,000. None of them are particularly fond of her and that money can go a long way towards remedying some of their woes.
Not smart people
Being the losers they are, they don’t have the scratch to cover Joe’s fee. Fortunately, the daughter has caught the eye of the stone cold killer. The family offers her up (like chum to a shark) as a retainer on their future earnings from the insurance and set them up on what might be the most awkward and disturbing first date in the history of cinema. There’s another dinner scene that closes out the movie in shocking fashion and I promise that you’ll never look at fried chicken the same way again.
No thank you!
Perhaps inspired by McConaughey’s award worthy performance, the rest of the cast delivers the goods as well. Emile Hirsch plays the son who hatches the plot to get out of some debts owed a local drug boss. Thomas Haden Church once more calls forth his inner-Lowell as the clueless, spineless father. Gina Gershon channels pure white trash as an evil, duplicitous step-mom, and Juno Temple is the Lolitaesque object of Joe’s affections whose future propels the plot to its grim conclusion.
Some flicks are worth putting in some effort to find. This is such a film. I hope you get the chance to see it on the big screen, but if you don’t there’s always DVD/Blu-ray. And you can eat dinner while you’re watching it. Just not chicken. Trust me.