Commentary: ‘Killer Joe,’ ‘Lawless,’ ‘Cosmopolis’ serve as an oasis in end-of-summer movie wasteland
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 00:09
Late August through the beginning of October can often be a movie wasteland of long-shelved oddities and future flops (see: “Hit and Run,” “Premium Rush” and whatever “Oogieloves” is). But maybe it’s not so grim. There are three films at your local theater still worth your seven bucks (and then some).
Directed by William Friedkin (“The Exorcist,” “The French Connection”), and featuring one of the most impressive acting ensembles this year, “Killer Joe” is a hard-boiled country noir thriller with equal belly laughs and gut punches. Starring Matthew McConaughey, the trailer park-bound crime story (based on the play of the same name by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tracy Letts) also features Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon and Juno Temple, who is as equally deserving of awards show attention as McConaughey.
The group forms a dysfunctional family that plots to kill the matriarch and collect the life insurance policy. Predictably, things don’t go quite as planned, and the gruesome fallout will leave you reeling. Friedkin is clearly engaged here, invigorated by working again with his “Bug” screenwriter Letts. McConaughey makes good on his promising supporting turn in this summer’s “Magic Mike,” here stepping into the foreground as the titular detective/hitman, who — just under the veneer of a Texas gentleman — is filled with sizzling sadism, which often boils over.
The limits of good taste are pushed in the NC-17 film, and while some audience members might balk at the more extreme sequences, fans of the dark comedies from the Coen Brothers and Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges,” and the forthcoming “Seven Psychopaths”) should find plenty to love.
“Lawless,” the latest from Australian director John Hillcoat (“The Proposition,” “The Road”), tells the story of the Bondurant brothers, three moonshiners in Depression-era Virginia. The trio keeps Franklin County, Va., running with homemade hooch, helping it earn the nickname “the Wettest County in the World” (also the title of Matt Bondurant’s book, from which the film was adapted by musician and frequent Hillcoat collaborator, Nick Cave).
Hillcoat’s film plays as rough as the outlaw family. Tom Hardy (Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises”) gives one of his best performances yet as Forrest, the leader of the pack, whose reserved, grumbling nature is oft-betrayed by punishing violent outbursts. Shia LaBeouf displays heretofore-unseen depth as Jack, the youngest brother and narrator, and Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Gary Oldman all do a lot with a little. But it’s Guy Pearce in a deliciously villainous role who steals the show playing Special Deputy Charlie Rakes, the man tasked with bringing the brothers down. The dandified Pearce takes bites out of every scene he’s in. Prim and verbose, he’s the opposite of Hardy’s brooding Forrest, but brutal in a manner that’s equally frightening. “Lawless” is a gangster film for hard times, more “Bonnie and Clyde” than “Goodfellas,” and yet another thrilling genre entry from Hillcoat.
Finally, “Cosmopolis” compels and baffles viewers with its heady dialogue and a compulsively watchable turn from Robert Pattinson, as surprisingly good as LaBeouf in “Lawless,” or Channing Tatum in “Haywire,” “21 Jump Street” and “Magic Mike” (2012 may be remembered as the “Year the Heartthrob Learned to Act”). From the master of cerebral science-fiction and horror, David Cronenberg, “Cosmopolis” might feel like a return to form for those left cold by his recent, more straightforward efforts with films such as “Eastern Promises” and “A Dangerous Method.”
The film defies easy explanation, plot-wise. With the story of a billionaire (Pattinson) trying to cross an increasingly apocalyptic Manhattan for a haircut, the majority of “Cosmopolis” takes place in a futuristic, fortified stretch limousine. Cronenberg, working from his screenplay adapted from Don DeLillo’s novel, stages complicated one-act plays in and around the limo, culminating in a stunning, nearly 20-minute exchange between Pattinson and an always-on-point Paul Giamatti. The supporting cast, which includes Kevin Durand and Juliette Binoche, is strong across the board, with Sarah Gadon deserving special mention. As Pattinson’s wife, Gadon speaks with a classical Hollywood affectation and projects an icily repressed sexuality, in contrast to Pattinson’s libidinous id. Deliberately stagey, dense and challenging, “Cosmopolis” is vintage Cronenberg in all the best ways.