Daily reviews of some of the best and worst movies to screen at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival
Director: William Friedkin
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church
Earlier in the festival one of the great '70s directors (Francis Ford Coppola) delivered a bit of a turkey, but the good news is that William Friedkin showed up in Toronto as well to prove that generation of filmmakers can still deliver the goods. It’s only the second movie that the man behind The Exorcist and The French Connection has made in the last five years since he’s essentially transitioned into being a full opera director (something that I doubt anyone saw coming, least of all Friedkin).
However, those two movies have been the best he’s made since the 1970s. His last movie was the 2006 insect infestation/paranoid delusional thriller Bug based on Tracy Letts’ play of the same name. Now Friedkin teams up with Letts again for an adaptation of Killer Joe, a darkly comic and deeply twisted “southern gothic” thriller. The movie is about a none-too-bright father and son team (Thomas Haden Church and Emile Hirsch) who decide to have their mother killed to collect the insurance money and pay off some debts.
Aware that they are too incompetent to pull of the murder themselves, they hire the titular Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey), a local law enforcement officer who moonlights as a contract killer. With no money to make a down payment, the deflowering of Hirsch’s virginal sister is offered to Joe as collateral and, as always tends to happen in these sorts of stories, nothing goes as planned. Cue bloody beatings, betrayal, and fried chicken fellatio (you’ll understand that last part once you see the movie).
Killer Joe starts as a fairly conventional, if well executed dark thriller before spinning off into some absolutely insane territory. For the sake of avoiding spoilers I won’t go into details, but rest assured that the film will divide audiences into the disgusted and the enthralled with little room for fence-sitters. It’s a dark, claustrophobic, paranoid thriller where every character comes off as at least somewhat reprehensible before the credits roll. In other words, it’s vintage Friedkin and one of the best films that he’s ever made.
With poetically filthy dialogue provided by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts coming out of everyone’s mouth, the cast all create rich and compelling characters, but special notice must be given to McConaughey. Though primarily known for a decade of lazy, shirtless performances in crappy Kate Hudson rom-coms, it’s easy to forget that it was the guy’s acting chops that earned him fame for preying on high school girls who “stay the same age” in Dazed And Confused many moons ago. He’s absolutely terrifying as the sociopath Joe and carries the film admirably. I’d say he has a shot at some well-deserved acting awards were it not for the fact that this film is simply too fucked up for that kind of recognition. Killer Joe won’t be a big hit, but it’s great n’ greasy little thriller destined to have a strong cult appeal for all the sick puppy cinephiles out there. As a proud member of the community, I’m pleased to say that it won’t disappoint lovers of depraved entertainment.
Director: Oren Moverman
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Ice Cube, Robin Wright
Rampart reunites budding writer/director Oren Moverman with Woody Harrelson after their Oscar-nominated collaboration on The Messenger. Though filmed in the same shakey-cam reality style and boasting another stellar performance from Harrelson, their new film is an entirely different beast. It’s a dirty cop story in the Bad Lieutenant style with Harrelson playing a dirty, violent, racist and sexist LA police officer who suddenly develops a conscience after a headline-grabbing racial beating. The movie follows the character on an inevitable downward spiral with little hope for redemption despite a sudden burst of self-awareness.
Harrelson is fantastic in the lead role and Moverman fills in the supporting cast with strong character actors like Steve Buscemi and Ben Foster to ensure even the smallest roles are compelling (and with a script co-written by LA Confidential novelist James Ellroy, the gritty crime character types are spot on). It’s a dark and compelling movie that’s easy to get lost in.
The only problem is that this ground has been covered many times before in movies like the aforementioned Bad Lieutenant and even the underrated Dark Blue (which Ellroy also had a hand in). Moverman clearly wants Rampart to be profound and certainly he’s a strong enough filmmaker to create many scenes that will burn into your brain. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t really add much to the well-established bad-behaving cop genre.
Despite all of the memorable and powerful moments in the movie, there’s an undeniable feeling of repetition that lessens the movie’s final impact. Even the excellent The Guard (which was released a few short weeks ago) had more original things to do with this material. Rampart is still a compelling cop movie character study that’s worth seeing, it’s just too bad that the movie doesn’t quite have the impact the filmmakers were so clearly striving for.