The Raid 2

Iko Uwais setting the standard in "The Raid 2"

Iko Uwais setting the standard in “The Raid 2″

This is the best action movie of the past decade. Probably even better than a decade – maybe the last 15 years? When was the last time a really great action movie came out (The Matrix in 1999?). It doesn’t really matter. You can use any time frame, because The Raid 2 is one of the best action movies of all time.

The dynamic duo (director Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais) gave a much-needed shot of adrenaline to the action genre when they released The Raid: Redemption in 2011. That movie was an hour-and-a-half long action sequence as Uwais kick-punched his way through innumerable floors of baddies before finally reaching the top floor, where naturally the video-game final stage boss antagonist resides. It revitalized martial arts films and instantly became an action cult classic, and the best part? – it was basically just a Kickstarter pitch video to make The Raid 2.

The Raid 2 was written before The Raid: Redemption. My understanding is that there was no intention to create a franchise. The Raid 2 – then simply called Berandal – was an ambitious martial arts epic that would change the face of action cinema as we know it – and that absolutely no one was interested in financing. So the dynamic duo scraped a bit of cash together, created the most basic action plotline (SWAT team taking on drug dealers) and used it as an excuse to choreograph action scene after action scene to prove that they were the real deal. The Raid: Redemption was a solid movie but the unrelenting action sequences became a bit tedious due to the limitations of the budget and setting (there are only so many times you can watch nameless bad guys get beaten up on different apartment floors). The Raid 2 roundhouse kicks The Raid: Redemption out of the water.

In The Raid 2, you have fight scenes in: a bathroom stall, a prison courtyard, a nightclub, a restaurant (x2), a kitchen, a drug dealer’s den, a subway, an alleyway, and in the great outdoors. There’s a fantastic car chase and enigmatic antagonists – like a baseball-bat carrying assassin and his deaf female companion who dual-wields hammers (referred to as “Baseball Bat Man” and “Hammer Girl” naturally). The action scenes have some of the best action choreography since…well, The Raid: Redemption, and it’s an absolute joy to watch (that is, if you enjoy buckets of blood and people being viciously murdered – I assume that includes everyone).

Even though it’s early in their careers, I think Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais can be favorably compared to John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat. They are redefining the action film and creating sequences that have never be done before (or at least, presenting it in such a way it’s as if it has never been done before). Watch the action scenes carefully and you’ll notice something unique – each are framed and shot with absolute clarity. In contrast to the Hollywood rapid-style editing where you don’t really know if the good guy hit the bad guy but are pretty sure he did, all the action sequences in The Raid 2 take the time to orient the audience and frequently use longer-than-average shots. It’s something to be really excited about – an action movie where you understand what’s going on. I think it must be nearing a decade since that existed.

The Raid 2 is a defining film of the action genre. Seeing it in theatres is like seeing Die Hard, Terminator 2, or Hard Boiled for the first time – a piece of genre history.  This is the action movie that all future action movies will measured by. Someone tell Grantland that Iko Uwais, not Liam Neeson, just got the title to the 2014 Action Hero Throne.

Grade: A

Sidenote: The plot in The Raid 2 is basically The Departed Lite. Iko goes undercover to get close to a criminal syndicate by posing as a low level thug and doing jail time. It’s pretty standard crime genre stuff – including the hot-headed son of the aging crime kingpin, an ambitious upstart, and corrupt cops. The “betrayals” can be seen from a mile away, but at least the film tries to add a semblance of a plot this time to break up the action sequences.

Netflix Canada Selection: 207 Movies Worth Watching (2014 Update)

The long awaited part deux!

The long awaited part deux!

My post about the selection on Netflix Canada (from three years ago) is the most popular post on my blog. It’s viewed at least once a day, every day. That means a lot of people are interested on what’s worth watching on the service, and unfortunately, I’ve neglected to update the post because I thought “hey – I already directed people to check out New on Netflix and Instantwatcher, two Netflix title crawlers that do a better job of listing titles than I do.”

Alas, in a bald attempt to increase my page views, below is my selection of movies on Netflix Canada that you should check out (or put in your Netflix lists). Note: going through the list, I already noticed that some of these movies will expire this week (looking at you, Donnie Darko and Requiem for a Dream), so watch ‘em quick! Also, I haven’t seen all of these movies, but the word I’ve heard about most of them is that they’re good/cult favourites/solid action/funny/scary. Enjoy…and watch as this post melts into obscurity in the next month!

Number Movie Title Year
1 The Rock 1996
2 Forgetting Sarah Marshall 2008
3 The Bourne Identity 2002
4 The Bourne Supremacy 2004
5 The Bourne Ultimatum 2007
6 Black Swan 2010
7 Shame 2011
8 Inside Man 2006
9 The Breakfast Club 1985
10 Drive 2011
11 The Hunger Games 2012
12 Accepted 2006
13 South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut 1999
14 Before Midnight 2013
15 Requiem for a Dream 2000
16 Midnight in Paris 2011
17 Enemy of the State 1998
18 Pulp Fiction 1994
19 Good Morning Vietnam 1987
20 No Country for Old Men 2007
21 Get Shorty 1995
22 Lost in Translation 2003
23 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 2004
24 Zoolander 2001
25 Frances Ha 2012
26 Wedding Crashers 2005
27 21 Jump Street 2012
28 The Social Network 2010
29 Robocop 1987
30 Team America: World Police 2004
31 Vicky Cristina Barcelona 2008
32 Wet Hot American Summer 2001
33 Spring Breakers 2012
34 Titanic 1997
35 The Talented Mr. Ripley 1999
36 The Hunt 2012
37 The Rainmaker 1997
38 Room 237 2012
39 Gone Baby Gone 2007
40 Robin Hood: Men in Tights 1993
41 City of God 2002
42 Exit Through the Gift Shop 2010
43 Donnie Darko 2001
44 Ghostbusters 1984
45 Braveheart 1995
46 Major League 1989
47 Tommy Boy 1995
48 Clerks 1994
49 Jerry Maguire 1996
50 The Firm 1993
51 West of Memphis 2012
52 Starship Troopers 1997
53 A History of Violence 2005
54 Contagion 2011
55 Insidious 2011
56 Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop 2011
57 Traffic 2000
58 Punch-Drunk Love 2002
59 The Faculty 1998
60 The Hustler 1961
61 The Hunt for Red October 1990
62 Take Shelter 2011
63 Young Frankenstein 1974
64 The Raid: Redemption 2011
65 Planet of the Apes 1968
66 From Dusk til’ Dawn 1996
67 Black Hawk Down 2001
68 Hackers 1990
69 The Guard 2011
70 The Verdict 1982
71 The Station Agent 2003
72 Broken Flowers 2005
73 1408 2007
74 Star Trek: First Contact 1996
75 Bronson 2008
76 The Fly 1986
77 The Road 2009
78 Ip Man 2008
79 The Devil’s Rejects 2005
80 Terri 2011
81 This is England 2006
82 Shoot ‘Em Up 2007
83 Bobby Fischer Against the World 2011
84 The Debt 2010
85 Woody Allen: A Documentary 2011
86 21 Grams 2003
87 The Magnificent Seven 1960
88 Upstream Color 2013
89 In the Line of Fire 1993
90 Lawrence of Arabia 1962
91 The Crazies 2010
92 Cop Land 1997
93 The Crow 1994
94 Perfume: The Story of a Murderer 2006
95 The Skin I Live In 2011
96 Hoop Dreams 1994
97 Tears of the Sun 2003
98 Slacker 1991
99 13 Assassins 2010
100 The Wave 2008
101 Ravenous 1999
102 Leprechaun 1993
103 Solitary Man 2009
104 Heavenly Creatures 1994
105 The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951
106 Headhunters 2011
107 In a Better World 2010
108 The Thin Blue Line 1988
109 Margaret 2011
110 Elite Squad 2007
111 Confessions of a Superhero 2007
112 Strange Days 1995
113 City of Men 2007
114 Assault on Precinct 13 2005
115 The Illusionist 2010
116 Way of the Gun 2000
117 A Hijacking 2012
118 Don’t Look Now 1973
119 The Disappearance of Alice Creed 2009
120 North Face 2008
121 The Puffy Chair 2005
122 The Limits of Control 2009
123 The Prophecy 1995
124 The Messenger 2009
125 Iron Monkey 1993
126 The Parallax View 1974
127 Kill List 2011
128 The Naked Prey 1966
129 The White Ribbon 2009
130 The American Scream 2012
131 Drug War 2012
132 Red Riding: 1974 2009
133 Red Riding: 1980 2009
134 Red Riding: 1983 2009
135 New World 2013
136 The Man of the Year 2003
137 The Man from Nowhere 2010
138 Pan’s Labyrinth 2006
139 Amelie 2001
140 The Bicycle Thief 1948
141 A Separation 2011
142 A Prophet 2009
143 The Secret in Their Eyes 2009
144 Hero 2002
145 District 13 2004
146 Ong-Bak: Thai Warrior 2003
147 The Legend of Drunken Master 1994
148 The Protector 2005
149 Rumble in the Bronx 1995
150 Holy Motors 2012
151 Carnage 2011
152 Ip Man 2 2010
153 Blackfish 2013
154 Searching for Sugar Man 2012
155 The Central Park Five 2012
156 The Imposter 2012
157 Senna 2010
158 Inside Job 2010
159 The Queen of Versailles 2012
160 The Greatest Movie Ever Sold 2011
161 Indie Game 2012
162 Chasing Ice 2012
163 The “Up” Series Various
164 The Terminator 1984
165 In Bruges 2008
166 The Warriors 1979
167 Life of Pi 2012
168 Hanna 2011
169 Attack the Block 2011
170 Kick Ass 2010
171 Patton 1970
172 The Fifth Element 1997
173 Pirates of the Caribbean 2003
174 Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol 2011
175 Haywire 2011
176 Fast and the Furious Series Various
177 Escape from LA 1996
178 Jackie Brown 1997
179 Blue Valentine 2010
180 Rocky Series Various
181 Rounders 1998
182 Breaking Away 1979
183 Fargo 1996
184 Fatal Attraction 1987
185 Father of the Bride 1991
186 The Ice Storm 1997
187 The Virgin Suicides 1999
188 Chasing Amy 1997
189 Brokeback Mountain 2005
190 Flight 2012
191 Shaun of the Dead 2004
192 The Descent 2005
193 Child’s Play 1988
194 Session 9 2001
195 The Mist 2007
196 Maniac 2012
197 Scream Series Various
198 Moon 2009
199 Cube 1997
200 Super 8 2011
201 Blue Velvet 1986
202 Pi 1998
203 Frailty 2002
204 Sightseers 2012
205 Prince Avalanche 2013
206 The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2011
207 Tiny Furniture 2010

Her

Joaquin Phoenix, contemplating life in Spike Jonze's Her.

Joaquin Phoenix contemplating life in Spike Jonze’s Her.

It’s funny to be in a room with non-movie buffs. I take it for granted that everyone knows the basic synopsis of every new release, the headlining stars, and the directorial talent behind the camera. Being a big fan of Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich and Adaptation are two of the most inventive films of all time), I was excited to see what shenanigans he would get up to with Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson’s voice. I was recently in a room with a few friends when the trailer for Her played, and one person looked around at everyone in disbelief and said “really?” For those of you who don’t know, Her is an unconventional love story about a man falling in love with, yes, the operating system on his cellular phone. Really.

That reaction got me to thinking about the movie (I saw it a few months ago, and wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the film itself) and how the concept isn’t that far-fetched. Technology has made human connection an entirely different beast – some would say we’ve regressed, rather than progressed. But it has opened up a whole world of new relationships because physical presence isn’t a prerequisite anymore. A person in Bangladesh can be in a relationship with a person in Brazil, and no one bats an eye. People fall in love over text message and instant dating websites. Really, Her is just the logical extension of this process. What can be more long-distance than the distance between a human being and an electronic program?

The most important scene in the film (in my mind) is not the eyebrow-raising central romance, but a blind date between two live individuals – Joaquin Phoenix and Olivia Wilde. When they first meet, the brief silences are awkward and their small talk is numbing. So, like most people in social situations, they immediately order drinks to loosen up. It’s a really interesting scene to me, because they both can’t talk to one another without help, and even then their interactions are still surface-level. Meanwhile, Joaquin can bare his soul to his intelligent operating system, making a connection more real and human than an alcohol-fueled date with a complete (but living and breathing) stranger. I think it’s because with his operating system, there’s no risk. He believes that an operating system can’t hurt him, but people can. It turns out he couldn’t be more wrong.

In that one scene, the theme(s) of the film are confused. Is this a movie about technology impeding and poisoning our relationships with other people? Or is it about technology opening up doors to new relationships that we wouldn’t have otherwise? Maybe it’s not about technology at all, but just lonely people, trying to break out of a prison with no walls.

It’s not just about scoffing at the incredulity of some sad sack falling in love with his computer system. Really.

Sidenote: I’d give the movie itself a “soft” B. It feels a little bit lost and meanders at times, never coming into a truly moving or cohesive package.

You’re Next

Youre-Next-Poster

I’m not sure when I really started liking horror movies. I never used to like the genre – mostly because it always seemed to be the same re-hashed scenario (seemingly invulnerable killer with a knife) in different settings. But I’ve realized that’s a pretty unfair generalization. There’s a wealth of horrifying subject matter to draw from – alien abductions, supernatural occurrences, cults, mental instability, etc. –  and when a horror movie is done well it’s one of the most satisfying cinematic experiences you can have. You’re Next may not break much new ground in the well-tread genre, but it throws a twist into a cliched scenario and it’s a lot of fun to watch the mayhem unfold.

The members of the Davison family have gathered for a reunion at their remote country house. It’s deep in the wilderness, and they only have one neighbour in the area. He’s far enough away that he won’t be able to hear screams or gunshots, but close enough for some intrepid family members to contact him for help, if they can run fast enough. I wonder if “isolated country house with a high chance of successful home invasions” is a major selling point for such estates.

The Davison family is a largely dysfunctional clan. There’s the eldest son (Joe Swanberg) who scoffs and sneers at his younger siblings and regards them as inferiors. He’s particularly ruthless towards his brother Crispian (AJ Bowen), a university professor striving for a fellowship that seems to be uninterested in his work, and who brings along a girlfriend (formerly his student) with him. The rest of the family is a hodge-podge of characters we’ve seen before: the wealthy patriarch (Rob Moran) and his anxious wife (Barbara Crampton), the ne’er-do-well youngest son (Nicholas Tucci) and his sullen girlfriend (Wendy Glenn), and the only daughter (Amy Seimetz) and her filmmaker partner (horror director Ti West). Unwritten horror film rule: large families make for great fodder.

Before the dysfunctional family dynamics can really start brewing (see August: Osage County if you’re looking for that instead), masked invaders begin shooting arrows and killing people. And the fun is just getting started.

The acting in You’re Next (especially in the early scenes) is pretty sub-standard. There’s especially some issues with Crispian, who seems to be a bit monotone and emotionless when interacting with his girlfriend, and their scenes together come off a little bit stilted. The film gets a lot better once it dials down the dialogue and increases the violence, though. The characters are a lot more believable once they’re covered in a lot of red food dye and corn syrup.

A bit of a caveat – this isn’t necessarily a “scary” film. There are some tense moments, but the main object of the film is to have some fun with a well-worn scenario and make something a little off-beat. It may come at the expense of scares, but the trade-off is worth it. Especially when a household appliance makes an unexpected cameo to deliver one of the film’s most deliciously grotesque moments, and the final scene of the movie ends in a macabre punchline.

You’re Next a great example of some of the exciting work being done in the horror genre, and even though it has flaws, it’s an enjoyable ride.

Grade: B+

The Wolf of Wall Street

wolf-of-wall-streetMorality in fairy tales is so uncomplicated. If a character is evil, their rotten nature manifests itself in their outward appearance. All cruel characters in fairy tales are ugly. And the beautiful characters are all pure of heart and soul. It would be so much simpler if real life worked that way.

The Wolf of Wall Street is an anti-morality tale. Actually, that’s being a bit generous. Morality isn’t on this film’s agenda at all. Instead, it’s a celebration of excess and depravity – drugs, money, and sex (the usual suspects) – with a bitter aftertaste. It’s the funniest movie Martin Scorsese has ever shot and a biting satire (or mirror?) of the financial world.

Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a twenty-something stockbroker. He starts off as a fresh-faced idealist, but after a chest-thumping talk from Matthew McConaughey and his firm’s implosion on Black Monday, he fully embraces boiler-room tactics to make millions by pressuring unsophisticated investors into buying questionable penny stocks. Along the way, he forms his own investment firm (named Stratton Oakmont, because it sounds old) and employs his drug-dealing buddies and Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), a salesman who lives in his apartment complex.

The characters are motivated by only one thing: greed. It isn’t enough that Belfort makes $49 million in one year because it’s “three million shy of a million dollars a week.” It’s not enough to buy a 140-foot yacht; it has to have its own helicopter and landing pad too. Belfort consumes pharmaceuticals like water, and throws outrageous parties that would make Dionysus blush. He’s the messiah of greed, and the rest of the characters worship him for it.

It’s a terrifically funny film, buoyed by Jonah Hill’s comedic rants and DiCaprio’s surprising gift for physical comedy. But it’s guilty fun. Scorsese chooses to base the film entirely from the traders’ perspective, without any scenes showing the devastation Stratton Oakmont has done to their “investors” who have forked over their life savings. It’s an effective choice because it implicates the audience in the shameless hedonism depicted onscreen, without showing any of the consequences. And that’s the point Scorsese and his cast are making – there were no real consequences for these individuals. Belfort parties, travels, lives lavishly, and his “downfall” (if you can call it that with a straight face) is that he ends up playing tennis for a few years in a white collar prison and then becomes a best-selling author and motivational speaker.

The most important scene in the film is when Kyle Chandler’s dogged FBI character sits silently on the subway during his commute home. You can see in his eyes that he’s wondering whether playing fair is worth it, or if taking a bribe would have been the better route. I’m not sure what he decides.

The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the funniest films of the year. The characters are dimwitted buffoons who take hour-long meetings to discuss the mechanics of dwarf-tossing but are still nevertheless able to bilk millions of dollars out of ordinary people with nothing but a telephone and sales script. But it’s also a frightening film – depicting immorality without consequences. The victims were just voices on a telephone. Greed gets the last laugh in this one.

Grade: A

Sidenote: There’s a good story I like about the perils of insatiable greed. Author Joseph Heller (Catch-22) was at a house party with a bunch of stockbrokers and financial executives.* One of the executives came up to the author and told him: “You see that kid over there? He’s twenty-six years old and he’s made more money than your book will ever make you in your lifetime.” Heller responded: “That may be true, but I have one thing that he’ll never have.” The executive, slightly incredulous, asked Heller what that was. Heller said: “Enough.”

*I think the true story is Kurt Vonnegut asked Heller this question at a billionaire’s party, but this is how the story was first told to me, and I just like this telling better.*

Why “Based on a True Story” May be a Bad Thing for the Movies

Freaky-Stories-Cockroach

Happened to a friend of friend of mine.

In the late ’90s, on the Canadian children’s channel YTV there was a show called Freaky Stories. It starred a giant purple cockroach who narrated three animated urban legends while scampering around the counters of a dirty, dilapidated diner. But before he began any of the tall tales he always prefaced his stories by telling the audience it happened to a “friend of a friend of mine.” While this was obviously a wink to the absurdity of such stories being true (i.e. crocodiles swimming in New York City’s sewers – obviously false, or is it?), films choose to use a phrase that sounds more legitimate, but means exactly the same thing: “The following is based on a true story.” And it’s starting to get a bit ridiculous.

This fall, it’s been hard to go more than a week without hearing about the latest “true story” movie. Here’s a brief snapshot of some of the most acclaimed or anticipated movies of 2013: 12 Years a SlaveCaptain Phillips, American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks, Lone Survivor, and The Wolf of Wall Street. And all of them have to prominently remind audiences that what they’re about to see are films “inspired by” or “based on” true events. It’s maddening. And I’d argue that it’s a bad thing for the movies.

based-on-a-true-story

How I feel when the magic words are uttered.

When did being based on a true story become a barometer for a movie’s quality? Honestly, it’s really just a trivial detail about the making of a film that has no bearing on whether the finished product is good or not. And for some reason it’s the only trivial detail about a movie that’s acceptable to tell whenever anyone mentions the film title. Like: “I really liked The Conjuring followed up by “did you know it’s based on a true story?” Here’s a fun experiment: tell someone that you like a fact-based well-known movie (i.e. Apollo 13, Rush, every other Ron Howard film) and six out of ten people will remind you that it’s based on a true story. True story.

I would be fine with movies claiming to be “based on a true story” if they at least did it honestly. Like “inspired by reading a first-hand account about what happened from one party’s perspective, ignoring other viewpoints, eliminating extraneous characters, making artistic choices and warping the chronology of dialogue and moments to fit the film’s thematic purpose to the point where the actual film is unrecognizable from the actual events that occurred.” So much better, and we could avoid the confusion that occurs when people conflate the events of a “based on a true story” film with the events that actually happened. I.e. the backlash against Argo‘s depiction of Canadians would be minimized if the film had an honest disclaimer indicating that it only has a tangential relationship with reality.

Prefacing a film with the “true story” claim is also an exercise in laziness. Part of a filmmaker’s job is to get the audience to “buy-in” to the reality that’s playing onscreen (i.e. suspending our disbelief). The “true story” claim does the legwork for them – i.e. all of this happened, you don’t have to be wary of the film’s authenticity because it really happened. So instead of, y’know, orienting the audience or properly laying the groundwork for why we should care about these people, most films of this ilk engage in checklist storytelling – i.e. going from event to event (often in chronological order) with subtitles denoting the date and time when it occurred. Generally speaking, this isn’t engrossing filmmaking.

This is not to say that all films based on a true story are bad. One of my favourite films is The Social Network, which is also ostensibly based on events that actually occurred (even though there are inaccuracies, blah, blah, blah). My argument is that films are good in spite of being based on a true story or not, so heavily underlining that a film is a “faithful depiction” is irritating. It’s just a piece of trivia that has no bearing on the quality of the film itself.   And then even if a “true story” movie is actually entertaining and intelligent, it gets deconstructed for how historically authentic it is. So even if a movie based on a true story is “good” it will be criticized for its inaccuracies, which entirely misses the point (going back to the Freaky Stories comparison, it’s like criticizing the teller of a good urban legend that the story actually happened to a friend of a friend’s cousin, rather than just a friend of friend). The purpose of a film “based on a true story” is to strive for emotional authenticity rather than historical authenticity. The  label only works to obscure this point.

If you want a movie based on true events, rent a documentary. Although even those may misleading too.

Sidenote: I recently rewatched City of God (think of it as the Brazilian Goodfellas) and the film uses the “based on a true story” trope as a twist ending. Just before the credits, and after you’ve watched over two hours of gang wars, drug dealing, and tense shootouts does the film then flippantly note that the entire thing is based on true events. At this point, your already engrossed in the film because it’s a story well-told without the added baggage of “being based on true events.” You either buy-in to the events happening onscreen or you don’t, without the manipulation of a claim to legitimacy.  Another good subversion of the “true story” claim is Fargo, which claims to be based on true events even though it isn’t. The Coen brothers simply use the claim as it was intended: to legitimize what would otherwise be a tall tale.

 

Killer Joe

Killer-Joe

I keep coming back to the sound as he clicks open his lighter. The noise is dramatically enhanced to be louder than anything else happening in a scene, such that even onscreen dialogue spoken by other characters is overshadowed by the malevolent clicking. Click, click, click. That’s Joe Cooper, a Dallas detective moonlighting as a contract killer.

Killer Joe is adapted from a Tracy Letts’ stage play of the same name, and the film reveals its theatrical basis by focusing on dialogue-heavy scenes contained in single, distinct locations. Most of the film takes place in the Smith family trailer, and it’s easy to imagine the film taking place onstage.

Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is a small-time drug dealer who owes $6,000 to his supplier. His ingenious plan to clear his debt? Hire “Killer” Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to kill his mother and collect the money on her life insurance policy. He convinces his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), to join him in the scheme. They’re the most hapless and unprofessional of would-be conspirators. When they first arrange a meeting with Joe, neither Chris nor Ansel show up to the agreed-upon meeting place. Instead, they call Joe (after he’s arrived) to meet them at a second location. It’s a pretty clear indication that this scheme will go awry. The second indication is that Chris and Ansel don’t have the money to pay Joe’s sizable upfront sum. So Joe makes an alternate arrangement: a “retainer” in the form of Chris’ sister and Ansel’s daughter: Dottie (Juno Temple).

Actors playing against type almost always shocks audiences. We’re used to seeing the same actors in specific types of roles, which provides a simple shorthand to understand the basic machinations of the plot. If Tom Hanks pops up in a film, we can rely on our knowledge of his filmography to assume he’ll be playing the good-natured everyman. Whereas if Danny Trejo appears in a film, he’s generally an intimidating bad-ass, and often a criminal one at that. But when actors play against their image, especially the “good-guy” actors playing bad, the results are chilling. Denzel Washington won an Oscar for doing exactly that in Training Day, and Henry Fonda obliterated his wholesome image when he gunned down a child in Once Upon a Time in the West. In Killer Joe, McConaughey plays a wholly unredeemable and disreputable character with his trademark Texan charm. It’s an effective choice. His golden drawl and assured confidence are used to mask a depraved and lecherous character.

Besides McConaughey, Thomas Haden Church really stands out as the dimwitted Ansel. He’s a lumbering hulk, but he’s unintelligent and passive. It’s especially noticeable because the character simply repeats lines of dialogue that others have told him. He’s like a blank slate waiting for others to impress their ideas on him. And Church really sells the role.

Killer Joe has great performances, but it takes place against a backdrop of depravity, statutory rape, murder, despicable characters and brutal violence. Oh, and fried chicken. Definitely not for everyone, and in my opinion, one viewing was more than enough.

Grade: B-

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