I shall begin with Killer Joe [Friedkin, 2012] because, well, it demands it. The theatrical poster described the film as ‘A totally twisted, deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story’ and that’s pretty much bang on.
Adapted from her own play by Tracy Letts, this is one of the most surreal, horrifically funny yet disgustingly demented films I’ve ever seen. Some of the acting, particularly in the opening scenes, is a bit ropey and Thomas Haden Church who plays the role of slow, clueless and emotionally vacant father Ansel delivers most of his lines with such a staggering lack of conviction that it’s difficult to tell whether he’s really bad or really good.
On the flipside of this grimy coin of a movie is Matthew McConaughey, who plays the eponymous policeman-come-hitman. I’ve never been a fan but here, he stalks the screen like a reptilian angel of death clad in Western bad-guy black and never ceases to menace, ratcheting up the tension with every flick of his lighter or carefully articulated word.
The violence is grotesque to the point of absurdity, but the mood and tone is pure film noir, albeit, mutated to a new level of moribundity, depravity and vile amorality. It is safe to say that southern-fried chicken will never look the same again.
On a not too dissimilar vein of violence and morality is Cell 211 [Monzón, 2009], in which a fresh-faced and seemingly naive young prison guard becomes inadvertently embroiled in a prison riot and finds that the best way to survive is to pretend he’s a fellow inmate and cosy up to the brilliantly named head-honcho, Malamadre (the excellent Luis Tosar).
The pace is steady as we flit between the lawless prison and the ‘outside world’, where prison guards and officials are inhibited by protocols, political pressure and an inability to decide the best course of action. Monzón steadily builds the tension as the plot twists and turns and prison guard Juan’s (Alberto Ammann) position becomes increasingly fragile due to mistrust on both sides of the cell door. A good taut thriller that certainly pulls no punches and is all the better for it.
Lastly, French crime auteur Olivier Marchal’s most recent effort A Gang Story  tells a tale of deep-seated loyalty between a group of aging gangsters known as Les Lyonnais. Gypsy, Momon Vidal (Gérard Lanvin), is nearing 60 and is looking to put his notorious bank-robbing and murderous past firmly behind him. Yet, as is always the case with such types, it’s easier said than done. The re-arrival of Momon’s former right-hand man Serge (Tchéky Karyo) throws this quiet life into turmoil and Momon finds himself getting increasingly drawn back into a world he thought he’d left behind.
Admittedly, the premise is nothing new and A Gang Story certainly won’t go down as a classic but nobody quite does the gangster/crime genre as well as the French and at the moment, Marchal, is just behind Jacques Audiard at the head of the queue (just check out O.M’s ongoing TV series Braquo for a top quality twisted taste of crime, loyalty, morality and brotherhood). A certainly watchable but as easily forgettable film that doesn’t quite live up to the lofty standards of Audiard’s The Beat that my Heart Skipped (2005) and A Prophet (2009) or TV offerings Braquo and Engrenages.
Killer Joe – 3.5 out of 5
Cell 211 – 4 out of 5
A Gang Story – 2.5 out 5