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 Sept. 19, 2014
It's been a turbulent few years for Aaron Freeman, more commonly known as Gene Ween from the band Ween. After much self-repair, however, the musician is himself again - literally - recording and performing as the lead in his new band, fittingly titled Freeman. The band has a new album, along with a tour stopping at Turner Hall Ballroom. Before then, OnMilwaukee.com chatted with Freeman about the road to recovery, music and himself.
Published Sept. 18, 2014
Character actor David Eigenberg is likely best known for spending multiple seasons and two movies romancing Cynthia Nixon's Miranda Hobbes on the iconic HBO TV show "Sex and the City." Eigenberg's latest television project nowadays, however, is far from high fashion and high living in New York City. Instead of a fiery redhead, Eigenberg now co-stars with actual flames on NBC's "Chicago Fire."
Published Sept. 17, 2014
In 2010, Mark Clements arrived in Milwaukee and, in his first act as artistic director, brought something to the Milwaukee Rep's main stage that oddly it had never seen in its impressive history: a musical. Several years later, Clements has made it a bit of a tradition to feature a musical in the Rep's main house schedule. 2014 is no different and the Powerhouse opens up with "The Color Purple."
Published Sept. 15, 2014
The title of The War on Drugs' latest album is "Lost in the Dream," fitting for a record - and a moment in time - that utterly enveloped front man Adam Granduciel. The band is now taking the final product on the road, including a stop at The Pabst Theater on Sunday, Sept. 21. Before then, Granduciel chatted with OnMilwaukee.com about becoming a real band on the road, the process behind the album and the inner battles that went into it.
Published Sept. 14, 2014
It's hard to imagine there was much clamoring for a sequel to "Dolphin Tale." The first film was a modest early fall success back in 2011, but even then, the story of Winter the dolphin was already fairly thin dramatic material, serving as little more than a nice pleasant aside. Still, somebody thought it was a good idea to head back to the well, and surprisingly - judging from "Dolphin Tale 2" - that person wasn't wrong.
Published Sept. 12, 2014
The Brewers are desperately trying to pull themselves out of a devastating tailspin. Even when they win, they seem to lose - as evidenced by last night's Giancarlo Stanton debacle. Sounds like a good time to get baseball's favorite canine Hank the Dog back in the spotlight!
Published Sept. 10, 2014
The country-tinged rock duo of Phil Leavitt and Joie Calio worked together for years in the band Dada. 7Horse, however, marks a fairly new project for the guys. And there are certainly worse things to put on an early band's resume than being associated with an Oscar-nominated Scorsese film. OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with Leavitt about the band's origins, its Milwaukee connection and getting the rare Scorsese Stamp of Approval.
Published Sept. 9, 2014
For fans of the late '90s, names like the Sugar Ray, "TRL," Surge and Chris Gaines will sound very familiar (OK, maybe not that last one). For local music fans around in the era, another name might sound a little familiar: The Buzzhorn.
Published Sept. 8, 2014
The good news? As with every year, the lineup of movies are the Milwaukee Film Festival is overflowing with terrific options. The bad news? Unfortunately, save for some kind of planetary revolution halt, divine intervention or new time machine development, there are only so many hours in the day. So here are some picks for the film festival selections you should definitely make the time to see.
Published Sept. 5, 2014
After slowly teasing its complete lineup for the past several weeks, the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival finally revealed the entire cinematic buffet it's assembled for film fans - both hardcore and casual - this morning. And my friends, it looks absolutely delicious.