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 July 26, 2014
For just two guys, Royal Blood is certainly making a lot of noise. With the band's debut album set to arrive next month, the raucous duo of Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher are now on the road, with a stop at The Rave Monday, July 28 next up on the schedule. Before then, however, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with Thatcher about the band's origins, their inspirations and the all-too-deservedly forgotten '90s band Aqua.
Published July 24, 2014
Every now and then, the writers here at OnMilwaukee.com decide to give other, unique jobs a try. Some have tried cheesemaking. Others the ballet. Me? Well, I fought in the Civil War.
Published July 22, 2014
"The Purge: Anarchy" finds DeMonaco coming closer to turning a good premise into an actually good movie. The sequel still feels like a missed opportunity for something smarter, sharper and just overall better, but hey, at least he made a decent horror thriller this time.
Published July 22, 2014
In addition to the successful rotation of the Oriental, the Downer and the Fox Bay movie theaters, the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival has recruited the Times Cinema to its Avengers team of old school Milwaukee movie houses.
Published July 21, 2014
Thankfully, "Fire and Rescue" is a step above its predecessor, if only because the movie was actually made for big screen consumption this time. Gone is the stiff, antiseptic joylessness of the first film, now upgraded to mere bland competence. If "Planes" was like eating cardboard, "Fire and Rescue" is slightly more digestible cardboard. So progress?
Published July 19, 2014
All musicians create new music. Even the most derivative Top 40 hit features a new combination of notes and lyrics. Very few, however, can claim to have come up with a whole new genre of sound. Chicago blues extraordinaire Corky Siegel is one of those few.
Published July 17, 2014
As a fan rooting for Argentina in the World Cup, last weekend was likely a little rough for Italian crooner Patrizio Buanne. This upcoming weekend, however, is shaping up much more nicely with two headlining performances set for Festa Italiana.
Published July 15, 2014
Today marked the kickoff of the Greater Together Challenge, a competition launched to create awareness, hope and ideas to dismantle segregation, as well as address racial and economic inequality in greater Milwaukee.
Published July 15, 2014
Even though it's not even 30 years old, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical retelling of "The Phantom of the Opera" has turned into a truly iconic story, one whose elements are ingrained in the memory even if you haven't seen it. So to tinker around with the show is a bold idea. But that's exactly the case with the upcoming production of the show coming to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
Published July 15, 2014
Milwaukee music fans - and fans of good music just in general - have been waiting since 2012 for news of a new record from Field Report and frontman Chris Porterfield. Well, wait no longer. Last month, Porterfield and company announced the name ("Marigolden") and release date for a sophomore album, and the good news keeps coming, as yesterday the band unveiled "Wings," the first track off the anticipated record.