The mere mention of the names Richard Gere and Matthew McConaughey could once send female audiences swooning for hours. The past half-decade, however, hasn't been kind to the former heartthrobs.
McConaughey learned the hard way that taking his shirt off could only make up for so much rom-com dreck ("Fool's Gold," "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past"), and Gere's latest films have either quietly left theaters without much consequence or never came to them at all.
The handsome duo, though, is having a bit of a renaissance year. The surprising part is that, for the most part, it's by playing against type, portraying characters that dare the audience to like them, especially McConaughey.
We'll get to McConaughey's startlingly unpleasant turn in a moment, but let's start with Gere in "Arbitrage." The sleek, metropolitan thriller stars Gere as Robert Miller, a wildly successful hedge fund CEO in the midst of the sale of his company. He has a happy life with his wife (Susan Sarandon) and grown-up kids (his son is never seen, but his daughter is played by "Another Earth"'s Brit Marling).
Unfortunately, he also has a woman on the side, a fledgling artist named Julie (Laetitia Casta). A night out with Julie goes fatally awry, and Miller suddenly has an even bigger mess to hide with other people's lives involved. Things only get worse when his daughter, who works with Miller at the company, notices some strange numbers on their audit that could halt their sale.
The story, written by Nicholas Jarecki (who is also making his directorial debut), isn't particularly innovative, and as it goes along, "Arbitrage" gets increasingly silly. The goofiness reaches its apex when Tim Roth shows up, swaggering around the set as an NYC detective pulled straight out of a bad "CSI" clone.
Sherlock Holmes, he is not. Miller seems to doing everything possible to get caught, including showing up at parties and offices where he shouldn't be and picking up accomplices right outside the police station.
Thankfully, Gere, the centerpiece of the film, is outstanding, using all of his star-making regal allure but also flipping it on its head. When he has to be, he's effortlessly charismatic and confident, even when his world is self-destructing. He's Edward Lewis from "Pretty Woman" but far more cutthroat, and Gere milks both the charm and the business savagery to great effect.
The rest of the cast is very good as well, especially Sarandon. She doesn't have a ton of scenes in "Arbitrage"'s first half (minus a blatant Zappos plug), but a late argument between her and Gere is a highlight. Also, as improbable as his script gets in places, Jarecki creates some crackling tension, and his shadowy direction sets an intriguing mood. The film doesn't go anywhere particularly new or unique, but it gets there entertainingly enough.
"Arbitrage" may be classified as an adult thriller, but "Killer Joe" truly earns that title. Except maybe the word "adult" should be underlined, in bold and in all caps.
William Friedkin's Southern-fried dark comedy stars McConaughey as the title character, a hit man who works as a police detective on the side. When a bumbling Texas youth (Emile Hirsch) gets in too much debt with a local drug dealer, he, as well as his father (Thomas Haden Church), hire Joe to kill off his mother, whose insurance will cover the debts and allow them to live comfortably. Of course, things go wrong, resulting in a disturbing mess of blood, sex, incestual feelings and fried chicken.
With that description, it's pretty clear that "Killer Joe" earns its NC-17 rating (Gina Gershon's character is introduced privates first). Even so, it's hard to walk into Friedkin's adaptation of Tracy Letts' play totally prepared for the vile, disturbing, dark and sometimes uncomfortably comedic events about to unfold. The whole film plays like a Coen Brothers movie if they had completely lost their sense of decency.
The cast commendably gives the often-unpleasant material their all. Haden Church is humorously dry, and Gershon is compellingly brave as the family's stepmother who may have secrets of her own. Juno Temple (Anne Hathaway's friend in "The Dark Knight Rises") also turns in a fearless performance as Dottie, a relative innocent in the clan who becomes a pawn in their game of murder.
It's McConaughey, though, who stands out in an already standout year. He takes his famous Texan drawl and turns it into something cold, then alluring, then terrifying. He's absolutely captivating, even when you're disgusted by what his sadistic character is doing (which is every few minutes).
"Killer Joe" is a sleazy, lurid tale, and Friedkin presents it with no frills and no glamour. It's gross, funny, appalling, thrilling, disturbing and sensual, often times at all at once. The final act, featuring several brutal beatings and sexual humiliation, is shocking and repulsive, yet watching the noir's gears turn and the family's greasy house of cards slip apart is savagely tense and riveting. It's a crazily unpredictable film with an equally unstable tone, but it's also one that's hard to forget.
"Killer Joe": ***
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published June 19, 2013
UWM grad and Milwaukee-trained actress Emma Bates talked to OnMilwaukee about "Much Ado About Nothing," the little secret Shakespeare movie writer-director-geek icon Joss Whedon made while working on another micro-budget movie called "The Avengers."
Published June 18, 2013
Noah Baumbach's 2005 breakthrough "The Squid and the Whale" is a great movie, but it should come with a warning. The dialogue and characters are so cutting and acidic, I was left looking for a Band-Aid when it was all done. Eight years and a couple more scathing features later, Baumbach delivers "Frances Ha," a sweet Woody Allen-esque comedy that his honest, funny, acute screenplays can come with a light, tender touch, as well.
Published June 18, 2013
Even if the movie is good enough to bring an captivated tear to George A. Romero's eye, the odds are very much against "World War Z." Here are the five main reasons why this upcoming zombie spectacular is almost guaranteed to be a pain in the neck for Pitt and company by the end of the weekend.
Published June 14, 2013
While director Zack Snyder (the Green Bay native behind "300") outdoes even himself in terms of epic visual spectacle, his attempt to churn out a moody, serious Superman story in the vein of Christopher Nolan - who serves as producer and provided the story alongside Batman collaborator David S. Goyer - lands with a thud.
Published June 12, 2013
If "This Is The End" is any evidence, it seems we know how James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel and Danny McBride would bid the planet adieu: They'd have a whole lot of drugged up, profane, wild fun. If this is what the end of the world as we know it looks like, to borrow a phrase from R.E.M., I feel fine.
Published June 11, 2013
Dear readers, I have seen our savior, and its name is Google. Google is a shining, six-letter, multi-colored beacon of light and hope in these dark, difficult times, and its technological wizardry brings joy to the hearts of millions. All hail our wonderful search engine leader. All hail it indeed. At least, that was my main takeaway coming out of "The Internship," a woefully humor-devoid workplace comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.
Published June 10, 2013
As it turns out, Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" wasn't the only recent Oscar nominee with its eyes set on the high seas. In the Best Foreign Film category, there was Norway's "Kon-Tiki." And while there might not be any disgruntled tigers in sight, the real-life journey of legendary explorer Thor Heyerdahl and his motley crew is just as beautiful and wondrous to behold. I guess there's enough ocean in the world for two great waterlogged adventures.
Published June 9, 2013
A movie called "Love Is All You Need" is clearly a movie that does not mess around. Most films may try to weave the message or theme into the story with some nuance, but not "Love Is All You Need." It's right there in the title: The characters in this movie will learn that love is, in fact, all you need. With a blunt title like that, what else could you possibly expect? Not much apparently.
Published June 8, 2013
The phrase "Sundance darling" comes with a bit more skepticism for me nowadays. Sure, the label can sometimes be pinned to a really honest, hilarious and emotionally satisfying film. Other times, it's stuck onto a movie that's both overworked and over-quirked. "The Kings of Summer" swings to both sides of that pendulum, its clever jokes and earnest look at growing-up constantly fighting against the pull of its indie indulgences.
Published June 7, 2013
"Mud" serves as the third film for writer-director Jeff Nichols, but this one comes with something new: expectations.