Editor’s note: The following review contains major plot points, including discussion of the final scene.
William Friedkin’s smartly paced, deliciously watchable film of Tracey Letts’ 1998 play mines a rich seam of gothic Americana in its portrayal of a greedy, incompetent family tearing itself to pieces.
Like the director’s The Exorcist (1973), Killer Joe examines the effect of amalignant outsider imposing itself upon an American family unit. However, while The Exorcist’s devil was a distinctly uninvited guest, Matthew McConaughey’s insidious Joe may be one of the first bogeymen in cinema to be actively welcomed into a position of destructive power.
The obliging family are the Smiths, who dwell in a cramped, fetid Dallas trailer park home, and conspire in a doomed plan to claim the insurance money of soon-to-be-departed matriarch Adele. Detective/hitman Joe (the only character in the film with anything approaching a code of ethics), in lieu of cold, hard cash, decides to take daughter Dottie (Juno Temple) as, essentially, a sexual prisoner until the funds appear; a suggestion actively encouraged by the family. With the facial hair and mind of a goat, Thomas Haden Church’s Ansel (the dad) makes for a transcendentally dim, affectless foil to Emile Hirsch’s wheedling catalyst/capitalist son Chris; an inept, desperate whiner.
Friedkin coaxes some superb performances to bring this unpleasant world – and Letts’ earthy, astringent dialogue – to life. A lithe, imposing McConaughey palpably delights in the opportunity to shake off a decade of undemanding nice-guy roles. Following in a long line of morally ambiguous Friedkin anti-hero cops (think The French Connection’s ‘Popeye’ Doyle, Cruising’s Steve Burns or To Live And Die In L.A.’s Richard Chance), his Joe is simmering and sexy, with a transformation to messianic beast in the film’s long final scene that’s electrifying.
Through Joe, Letts seems to be brutally satirizing a particular idea of middle America’s dependence on Christianity. In a cleverly ironic perversion of Americana tropes, Joe adopts the cadence and fervour of an evangelical Southern preacher when subjecting Sharla to a grotesque sexual assault with another emblem of American consumption: the chicken drumstick. Note too the psychotic manner in which Joe attempts to impose Christian family traditions upon the Smiths after his brutal assault (“Now, who’s gonna say grace?”)
McConaughey is matched by Temple, who nails the required mixture of vagueness, innocence and allure to make the pivotal character of Dottie believable; their chemistry aids a plot strand that’s fairytale of the darkest hue. The virginal Dottie, prone to sleepwalking, seems to exist in the liminal space between wake and sleep, muttering vague aphorisms, and blankly recalling childhood traumas. Like some lost character from an Angela Carter novel, her inquisitive young mind, then body, is colonized by this handsome, authoritative agent of institutional corruption. He’s her prince and her wolf. Her lover and her replacement father. And, as the film ends, the father of her unborn child too? Their extended dinner date scene, filmed in long, unhurried takes, is a deliciously awkward, erotic, and troublesome moment. If, like Dottie, we’re being taken in by Joe’s charisma, that’s exactly what Friedkin wants.
Though the director indulges in some cliched play-to-film tropes (why must it always be dark and stormy outside?), he handles the thriller aspects of the script smartly and without fuss. Similarly, his rendering of Letts’ milieu is confident and concomitant with the thematic darkness and moral murk that marks the best of his canon. Unlike Justin Kurzel’s claustrophobic, singularly depressing Snowtown (2011), however, Killer Joe adopts a bravely comic take on a crumbling underclass in which the the moral goalposts have not so much shifted as disappeared from view entirely. In ironically peppering the frame with heartland Christian iconography (crosses and flags), Friedkin conjures a land where understanding of religion has gone to seed; where the extreme breakdown of family life is accelerated by the the characters’ aggressive, borderline-absurd adoption of conspicuously capitalist, ruggedly individualist values in the face of poverty and cultural breakdown.
Whereas Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America(2012) explicitly cast television as the root of evil in contemporary society, Friedkin places the TV as an insidious opiate; a constantly distracting presence, flickering throughout countless scenes. Ansel is barely able to concentrate on pimping out his daughter, so engrossed and amused is he by the monster trucks on the box. It’s significant that Joe pointedly destroys the family television before his final rampage; one suspects that this material loss will affect Ansel more than that of his own son. (There’s no internet connection round these parts, meaning that Dottie can‘t even follow her beloved Justin Bieber – his image adorns her walls – on Twitter.)
However, Killer Joe falters when the script strives for American tragedy, such as Chris’ Steinbeckian lament about “raisin’ rabbits”. Chris’ late-blooming morality, though necessary to keep the plot ticking over, is the film’s least convincing element, unaided by Hirsch’s performance, which is the thinnest on show.
The best joke in this frequently funny film comes when Sharla (a brilliant Gina Gershon) picks at a loose thread in the shoulder of Ansel’s ill-fitting suit as they nervously await news of Adele’s life insurance policy. With very little resistance, the entire arm falls away. The characters’ plans – like their moral fabric – do not withstand much scrutiny, and Letts and Friedkin delight in poking away. In a recent interview, the director cited the Coen brothers as his favourite contemporary American filmmakers, and as the dust settles on the final carnage in the Smith kitchen, the mind can’t help but wander to that incredulous question posed by Fargo’s earnest cop Marge Gunderson: “And for what? For a little bit of money.”
Though at times here it’s tempting to see Friedkin as Jerry Springer with a camera – gawking at human detritus – there is a serious undercurrent that breaks through the black comedy; a sadness at the abject moral decay on show in this glum, savage middle America.
Killer Joe is in cinemas now.
In a recent interview, Permanent Plastic Helmet found the charismatic director of classics like The Exorcist and The French Connection – and brilliant new thriller Killer Joe – in a playful but outspoken mood. Peering though trademark outsize glasses and looking unmistakably Hollywood (albeit from a different age), Friedkin elucidated on a number of topics, from his directorial process, to censorship, to typecasting. He also went in-depth on Killer Joe, a twisted, trailer-trash noir about a greedy family who enlist a dirty cop to do their bidding with disastrous consequences.
* * * * *
Killer Joe marks Friedkin’s second collaboration with playwright Tracey Letts after 2006’s baroque, little-seen Bug, and he is full of praise for the man whose play he describes as “a gift from the movie gods”. So what is it about Letts’ work that attracts him to it? “We have the same worldview – we see the world in the same way: absurd. We see characters that embody both good and evil. we don’t see people as totally idealistic. There is potential for great good and great evil in all of us.”
Friedkin’s canon is riven with darkness and moral ambiguity, and it seems he relishes the challenge of dealing with the darker side of humanity in his work. He even has some surprising words for one of history’s greatest tyrants: “I hate to say this because it always gets misinterpreted, but if you read any of the biographies of Hitler, you see that even Hitler had some commendable things about him and I could state them. Not that I’d want to. He’s a candidate for one of the worst 2 or 3 people in history, but there are things in Hitler’s life that surprisingly make you understand he was a human being, not a devil or a creature from another planet. Not an alien”.
Not quite Hitler, but nevertheless capable of monstrous acts, dirty cop Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) joins a long line of ambiguous anti-heroes in Friedkin’s work, from The French Connection’s Jimmy Doyle to Cruising’s Steve Burns and To Live And Die In L.A.’s Richard Chance. So how did Friedkin feel about the character? “I know cops like that [Joe] in Chicago and NYC. They’re all around. There’s a guy I know – a homicide detective in NYC – we call him Uncle Mort, who for 20 years was a cop but also did hits for the Italian mob. I can’t tell you I understand how that comes about other than I know that these people are capable. I’ve seen it. Yes there is a thin line; its very often crossed. the best cops are the ones who most think like criminals. I’ve met such people, and believe me I can’t say I understand from whence they came… what crooked timber of humanity produced such a character but I know they exist. I find them fascinating.”
Though well acted by the entire ensemble (Juno Temple is a revelation as the virginal “retainer”, while Gina Gershon’s shameless hussy reminds us what we’ve been missing), it’s McConaughey as the eponymous Joe who steals the show. Exuding a palpable glee at shaking off 15 years of easygoing, undemanding romantic leads, a startling McConaughey grabs the role with both hands. What was it about the unlikely Texan that intrigued Friedkin?
“I don’t believe in typecasting. McConaughey is from that area. He was born at the Oklahoma/Texas border. He knows those characters, his accent is right and natural. He’s a very good actor. People didn’t realise that because in Hollywood terms he’s so good looking. If you’re in Hollywood all they want you to do is show up, they don’t want you to act. You just have to take off your shirt and be convincing as the lover of some lovely actress. That’s all that’s called upon to many of the great stars. But like McConaughey what they really wanna do is act in a role that can challenge them and find an audience. The studios don’t want that. They make a fortune. Matthew was making $10m a picture just playing a kind of good looking dude who got the girl. A lot of actors like Di Caprio are trying to stretch out; Matthew obviously could, and had the chops. That’s his desire. he could go on and make those rom coms, looking like he does. but that’s not what he wants or who he is.” And was McConaughey Friedkin’s first choice? “It was Woody Allen, but he wasn’t available!”
The cast, as is pretty much par for the course in a Friedkin film, is put through their paces, and the director is clear that it’s important to make actors feel comfortable. “I create an atmosphere in which they [the cast] can feel free to create, be on same page with me – the director – and the writer of the script. Once you’re able to give an actor that, you’ve given them an atmosphere, even the crew. Once they feel they’re free to make a mistake and create, they do their best work. That’s what I found by trial and error.”
Killer Joe, despite its darkness, is a very funny film, though Friedkin asked his cast to play it straight. ”That’s what most really great comedy is about, the fact that you believe in these characters. They’re not passing judgement on the characters they’re playing, they’re not saying ‘look at me, I’m a clown’ – unless you’re Jerry Lewis, you know, someone like that. The dark humour that comes out of, let’s say, farce or absurdity is done by characters playing it for real. As in Dr Strangelove – I believed all those characters that Peter Sellers played, including Dr Strangelove, who is very reminiscent of Henry Kissinger, who I happen to know! So no, you encourage them to make it real, and to keep it real. The humour is built in, it’s in the piece. It couldn’t work if the characters aren’t believable. For example, when Charlie Chaplin played the Little Tramp, you believed this guy was a little tramp. You weren’t thinking actor. Laurel and Hardy, they weren’t like that. Abbott and Costello, the Goon Show, those guys were making it real, and that’s why it’s funny. That’s what I did with my cast.”
Though not overly interested in discussing how he managed to balanced Killer Joe’s various genres (“I think that’s a good question for the writers of the New Testament!”), Friedkin is particularly engaged on the subject of censorship. This an issue with which Friedkin is intimately acquainted, having caused a storm of controversy with The Exorcist in 1973 and been forced to make 50 cuts to 1980’s Cruising to secure an R rating. Though the majority of Killer Joe could hardly be described as family friendly, it’s one prolonged moment of Southern-fried freakery toward its conclusion which likely secured the film’s NC-17 rating; a rating which Friedkin appealed. “We lost the appeal narrowly”, bemoans Friedkin, “…13 to nothing!”
“The appeals board is different from the ratings board”, says Friedkin, “An anonymous group of people. Nobody outside of their relatives know who they are. We don’t know who they are, where they came from, what qualifies them to give a rating. In my case they wanted me to do much more than make trims. they wanted to do what the US govt said it was doing in Vietnam. They said we have to destroy this country in order to save it. And thats what the ratings board would have had me do to Killer Joe.”
Has, as suggested in Kirby Dick’s film This Film is Not Yet Rated, the MPAA stacked the deck against independent films? “Violence is more acceptable to the MPAA than sexuality because they are always uptight. Interestingly though they will find a way around these problems for a major studio film. For example, the recent adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which has a very graphic anal rape scene later followed by a vengeance scene, that was one of the most violent scenes I have ever seen. There isn’t anything like that in Killer Joe. They are against the independent films and why? Because they can be. They perceive violence in the studio movies as cartoonish when it happens in a film like The Avengers, so they get away with the murder of thousands in the film. If the violence is too real for them they slam it, especially with independent films.”
An animated Friedkin continues, “You’ll never see a major studio film with an NC-17. They’ve all gone in in the dead of night and made a few trims and shown the rating board that theyre prepared to bow toward them and recognise their superiority legality (which they are not) they are not a legally binding anything, its a self-govering body of the member companies of the MPAA.”
Yet an element of circumspection sneaks through when the director remarks, “It’s better than what they had before which was a literal censorship code; the Hays Code. Those guys could cut a movie before it went out. They’d read a script which has two people in bed together. The studio head or the writer or producer or whatever would say “but they’re married!”, and they’d say “I don’t care. We can’t show two people in bed together!” They would literally cut scripts before they were made. at least they don’t do that.”
Furthermore, Friedkin laments the passing of the Hollywood in which he came of age as a director. “There were socially conscious films, some were cathartic films that didn’t provide easy answers to life and didnt have a guy with a letter on his chest flying around solving crimes. It wasn’t the dress-up costume show of Hollywood today. Studios are more interested in a sure thing which means a comic book or videogame adaptation. That’s what Hollywood movies are”. His frustration with the modern-day Hollywood scene is clear to see, and it’s refreshing to hear.
As our allotted time draws all too quickly to a close, Friedkin spends his last couple of minutes discussing the contemporary directors he admires. “Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen Brothers. And, eh… who else?” After a pause. “Well, the Coen Brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson!” But after some pondering time, “I like Wes Anderson’s work. I think he’s an interesting and original filmmaker. But I’ve been most influenced by many others like Hitchcock, and Orson Welles, the French New Wave, and the English New Wave of the 1960s. Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, John Schlesinger. Those were the films that influenced me. The Italian neo-realists, and some of the American classic directors of the 40s and 50s like John Ford of course, Joseph Mankiewicz. And the directors of the musicals, like Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Donen. I know Mr. Donen, he’s still alive, I’m a great admirer of his work.“ And with that, our interview with a true cinematic feather-ruffler is over. How enjoyable it was.
Killer Joe is in cinemas now.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury:
While deciding upon what to spend the pleasure-scraps of our well-earned dollar at the local Cinetorium, reviews are the most accessible tool we might choose to help us in our attempts not to mug ourselves. The trusted reviewer lies somewhere between benign counsellor and sage, directing our commodity-starved, impatient and anxious attention to places it might delight in.
Once, through a testing process of trial and error, we’ve found a publication or source whose ethos we trust, these good-natured mystics inhabit the metaphorical space of the real friends we don’t have, allowing a feeling of smug complicity as we baulk at the foolish opinions of our co-workers, whose oafish half-thoughts we can now haughtily disregard like the primordial drivel they are.
There are films that receive a level of critical adulation that surprises us into watching them. Films whose titles at which we might not have otherwise taken a second glance as we crept like shadows of beggars past the Cineplex’s intimidatingly vast, glittering façade.
On the other hand, there are those that receive bafflingly good reviews from one critic or another – reviews that seem to be somewhat disproportionally favourable to what’s actually there, leading us to suspect foul play and thenceforth disregard this or that particular hack as nothing more than a money-grabbing Judas.
Then there’s The Lincoln Lawyer. A film with generally glowing reviews across the board that was, in reality, so utterly charmless it might have been sat in Starbucks, laughing emphatically down a Bluetooth headset whilst scratching its balls. Badly filmed and scripted, with dialogue to the standard of the late-night soft-core television thrillers you might have seen during the early days of Channel 5, it’s directed by a man called Brad Furman (honestly, what’s the first thing that goes through your head when you read the name Brad Furman? It’s ‘Kill Brad Furman’, right?), an apparently grown and mentally able individual, who wears his baseball cap backwards in black and white photographs on the internet, and is, I can’t help but imagine, a massive fucking twat.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to it put to you today that The Lincoln Lawyer should, nay, must, be banished to the depths of the deepest petrol station bargain buckets, never to be seen again, and the critics who have betrayed our trust brought to collective justice. I’ll endeavour to break down the case for you.
Exhibit A: Genre
The Lincoln Lawyer falls into that most ridiculous and unholy vein of film – the courtroom thriller. In this unforgivable sub-genre, we, the public, are invited to perform the frankly laughable task of sympathising with the kinds of odious creatures we all know take pleasure in licking the faces of crying children and gang raping immigrants at money-fuelled sex séances.
It will therefore mostly be enjoyed by balding alpha wannabes approaching middle age: men who still sniff cocaine because they think it’s cool; men who listen to singers like Adele and Duffy on their surround sound set-up; men who drive fast, impractical cars down small residential streets and accidentally rub their clammy crotches against teenage daughters’ pretty friends at birthday parties.
For the entire duration of a film (1 hour, 53 minutes, 26 seconds in case you were wondering), the studio expects us to imagine these no-soul creeps actually harbour feelings, dreams and hopes. What more do you expect, Furman?! Are we supposed to connect with these villains? You might as well have based an entire film on an entitled rich-kid estate agent!
Exhibit B: Plot
Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillipe) is an entitled rich-kid estate agent who hires Michael ‘Mick’ Haller (Matthew McConaughey) to defend him against some rather nasty charges. A prostitute has been beaten to within an inch of her life, and poor old Louis has the feeling he’s being set up. But why has he hired a beatnik like Haller when he’s got loads of dosh? And why does the man Louis suspects of framing him only appear in a flashback, and not as an established character? Could something suspicious be going on?
Do you think?
The film centres on the exploits of Haller, as he unwittingly goes about finding out whodunnit. I say unwittingly because Haller really doesn’t want to know whodunit. He’s a defence lawyer, see, who specialises in defending guilty men. His approach tends to involve driving around a lot, looking occasionally puzzled, driving around some more and getting really drunk (real men drink to explore their feelings).
Without wanting to totally ruin this film for anyone who might want to see it, here’s a brief overview: Haller drives around, gets the big case, figures out the big case, gets intimidated a bit, gets his partner killed, looks upset a bit and then kills his client’s Mum. The usual.
There’s more: He has horny sex with his estranged wife while they’re drunk (in probably one of the most prudish sex scenes of the year scene backed by a band that sounds suspiciously like a ‘street’ version of Maroon 5 – can you quite imagine how awful that is?), discredits a victim of an attempted rape in court, shouts at a crying Mexican man in a flashback, gets shouted at by the same Mexican man in the present (whose new stance against crying and for shouting, presumably hardened via numerous anus-based incidents in prison, is visually illustrated by a fully shaved head and a moustache), and cracks jokes with his black chauffeur (no, seriously, it’s not what you think – the guy needed a job. He’s grateful to be driving his Haller around. Seriously. They’re friends. It’s a favour. He’s helping his friend. Come on!).
Ryan Phillipe did it, if you hadn’t already guessed.
Exhibit C – Writing
If the above reads more like a random sequence of events than a coherent plot, then I’ve adequately summed up this film’s approach. To go into the ins and outs of the story would do a disservice to script-writers and writers everywhere; it’s genuinely too stupid for words. There’s no reason for anything that happens. Umpteen avenues and loose ends are left unexplored and loose. In some films this might be a good thing. But to return for a second to Furman (‘kill Furman’): he’s clearly a fucking idiot.
Before he even touched it though, it should be given to him that any potential there was for an emotional response to these characters beyond the obligatory bile-in-mouth reaction is made nearly impossible by the writing. The script is literally hammier than Lawrence Olivier sporting a suit fashioned from slabs of honey-roast with pork scratching buttons.
Exhibit D: Matthew McConaughey
To the intended audience of this film, however, all that plot/character malarkey is essentially playing second fiddle to the wish-fulfilment of watching Mathew McConaughey be cool. That’s what this is really about. Studios probably only green-light lawyer-type films if they get the requisite actors. If films made to manipulate women play on the idea of a classy Mr Right made accessible through his emotional vulnerability, films to manipulate men are essentially about the same thing, but with the female lead relegated to (a potentially, even preferably, multiple) female bit-part, and all the mushy, kissy stuff replaced with violence.
It’s a grand acting tour-de-force for sure: McConaughey gamely flips type-casting on its head, veering from his standard job of looking creepily over-confident and sexual in countless crap romcoms to looking over-confident and creepily sexual in this – in one fell swoop switching the gender binary of his fan-base from essentially lonely, unimaginative, romantically deprived women to essentially unimaginative, lonely, romantically incapable men. Ah, individualism! How you have chastened us!
Exhibit E: What’s cool?
Haller is good at what he does, which is cool. So good, in fact, that he’s never been heard of by the big boys at the big law firm. But that’s cool too because that means he’s sticking it to the man. He drives around LA to a mid-90s Hip Hop soundtrack – not LA G-Funk though as you might expect, because cool has to be a tiny bit more obscure – looking (meltdowns aside) really cool, helping the lowlifes of LA get out of prison time. ‘You’d have done well on the streets.’ His driver/token black friend (does he even have a name? I honestly don’t think he has a name) says to him at one point. ‘Where do you think I am?’ McConaughey replies in his Southern drawl, an irritating shit-lipped grin on his face.
He’s so fucking cool! Haller’s so cool he even manages to hold his composure sitting next to the man responsible for his best friend’s death. He’s so cool he can even convincingly defend this same man in court. So cool he can get this man he knows is guilty off the hook whilst making that silly DA (what a good-hearted dork he is) look faintly ridiculous, taking apart the main witness (the victim of an attempted rape by his client) with ease and reducing her, in the process, to a stream of infantile tears (get over it honey – it didn’t actually happen). Cool.
The cracks in the façade are where we’re supposed find sympathy. Just because these people don’t air their emotions in public, it says, they’re still humans driven by the same kinds of will as our own. We just don’t see it. Thus we see Haller in a position of vulnerability. In one scene, completely alone save the camera’s beady, pervert eye, we see Mick in a private personal crisis. We know this is a vulnerable moment because the shot is zoomed unrelentingly on his wrinkled eyes, which are being anxious, and staring forward (intense thought or vacant idiocy?). This might be the scene that stirred up all those positive reviews for McConaughey. Wrinkles are a big deal for a Hollywood heart-throb.
For all external appearances though, he’s the complete man, and cracks only in private. He dominates women, of course. There’s one scene where a pretty female lawyer calls him a ‘prick’, and you know that really it’s because he’s so good at law, he sexually intimidates her and really, though she might really hate him, she just wants to fuck him really badly. I read one review of this film which asserts that McConaughey’s Haller is ‘sleazy’, and this the basis the author makes for claiming his is a good performance. I would make a different claim. The film is sleazy, and as such McConaughey can’t really go wrong.
Exhibit F: Message
Here, we come to the crux of what angers me about this film. Its principles are in total opposition to mine. I might be a bleeding-heart liberal at times, but I like ‘dark’ things as much as the next guy. It’s just that every note this film struck was a bum. Not only is Furman is an idiot, but I’d like to add ‘misogynist’ to that accusation. Moral ambiguity is great. We love moral ambiguity. Moral ambiguity can be interesting, thought-provoking. This is not moral ambiguity, make no mistake.
This film is set in a macho, emotionless world of casual acquaintances where women are two-dimensional non-presences, good for fucking, leering at, outsmarting or being smug towards. They’re easy to sleep with – either you get them drunk as Haller does, or hire them as Roulet does. If it’s that easy, the film seems to ask, what’s even the point of raping them? They’re easy to discredit in court, and easy to kill. Roulet’s mother is a rape victim herself. How does that lead to him going a-raping? Why does this lead to her killing people on his behalf? The film’s casual disregard, a lack of even attempting to broach these two key questions, further proves what a moronic piece of nonsense it is. It’s so confused it doesn’t even know. Furman either doesn’t have a clue, or doesn’t care.
In fact, it doesn’t say much about anything, except what it’s clearly trying not to. Haller is a cold-hearted, self-serving arsehole. He’s vile. And more shockingly, he’s not even presented as an anti-hero. He’s just a hero. There’s a weirdly misjudged line about homosexuality, and an even more oddly mishandled line about capital punishment, when Haller tells Roulet that he’ll see him squirm as the needle goes into his arm. In the light of how flawed the film seems to show the justice system as being, and the recent case of Troy Davis in Georgia, this particular line dropped like a massive clanging anvil.
A film has no obligation to be morally ‘correct’. A director, however, does have an obligation not to be lazy. And reviewers have an obligation not to be idiots.
Exhibit G: Style
This is a more personal gripe: this film had the worst collection of haircuts you could have ever wished on a bunch of actors. William H Macy gives a game go at bringing some genuine supporting clout to the project, but is undermined at every moment of on-screen time by a ridiculous fluffy mullet thing that’s somewhere between a 1970s Just For Men advert and Lassie. It acts like a naughty animal too, stealing every scene it’s in, and shitting on it.
Exhibit H: Cinematography
Like an episode of CSI. Totally unimaginative crap. Flashbacks, for example, are helpfully identified as such with blurry ‘we’re in the past’ figures and faded colour palettes.
As you’ll no doubt have noticed, my invective has gradually lost its energy, my righteous indignation dwindling. I’m not about to watch this film again to stoke my anger, ladies and gentlemen. Life is genuinely too short. All I can attempt to say, in closing, spent and weary with the effort, is that there’s absolutely no point to any of The Lincoln Lawyer, no reason for the film to exist at all. It says nothing about anything. Which would be fine, except it isn’t a suspenseful or interesting way to say nothing. There’s, no excitement, no interest in the journey. What’s more, every potential moment of excitement is mishandled, so you feel like Furman has let off another fart in your stupid, duped face.
The Lincoln Lawyer would love to think of itself driving around the edgy streets of LA, working hard and playing harder, making its own rules, saving the day. Instead, it opens its eyes to find itself a paunchy, red-eyed alcoholic, balding and depressed, desperately jerking off bathed in computer light on another grey, listless afternoon. One can only hope this is the position Brad Furman, and those traitorous critic bastards, find themselves in one day.
 As an aside, I have to note here how it’s usually possible to spot a crap book/film by the way the characters are named. Clunky character names are usually indicative of a half-arsed writer. Just have a browse down the list of characters here. Detective Lankford and Cecil Dobbs are two of my favourites.
 There’s the Lincoln from the title. I’m guessing the book has more on that, but it’s something to do with a certain brand of lawyer that deals with the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles. As this is left totally to our imaginations, it just looks like he’s too crap to have his own office so he works from his car.
“That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age. Yes they do…”
And so runs the manifesto of Matthew McConaughey’s David Wooderson and the brotherhood of borderline sex criminals he represents. Incapable of relinquishing their never-ending youth and the abundance of teen babes that accompany it, these man-children live out a perpetual adolescence in the manner of stoned, sex-crazed Peter Pans. McConaughey depicts the creepy older guy we have all encountered; forever knocking around with school-age teens in order to impress them with his car, drugs and shitty taste in music. The appeal of this type of character should be restricted to those young enough not to know better, but unfortunately I see something in this man that I admire. For one thing Wooderson looks pretty fresh in this film. This breed of man often does, for the elixir of teenage poon fends off the ageing process far more effectively than regular exercise and the occasional Berocca.
The techniques employed by Wooderson in order to entice underage girls seem almost quaint by today’s standards. Rather than taking a couple of kegs of low quality American lager to an isolated stretch of woodland, the modern day nonce-lite plies his trade in squat parties and Red Bull sponsored music events, shovelling bumps of Ketamine into the faces of his teenage conquests while remaining ever alert to the threat of potential sexual rivals. Contemporary courting rituals may seem unsavoury when compared those depicted in Dazed and Confused, but both methods ultimately yield the same unpleasant results. It is a dance as old as time itself.
Possibly the most remarkable thing about Wooderson is that it is a role performed by Matthew McConaughey that forces the viewer to neither a) leave the cinema while muttering obscenities under their breath, or b) calmly walk over to the DVD player, press eject and then launch into a 5-minute tirade at the expense of his girlfriend who had ‘accidently’ added The Lincoln Lawyer on to their shared LoveFilm list. Linklater, seemingly imbued with supernatural powers when directing this film, also manages to elicit an excellent performance from the usually interminable Ben Affleck, who portrays sadistic jock Fred O’Bannion. Having been held back an additional year at High School, O’Bannion relieves his frustrations by feverishly chasing around androgynous pubescent boys in order to strike their buttocks with a wooden paddle/replacement penis. Obviously a wholly unsympathetic character, Affleck depicts a sexually confused teenage boy possessed of reduced mental and emotional faculties with admirable precision.
There are obviously darker facets to the kind of character that Wooderson represents, but Dazed and Confused is not the film to address them. The positive feeling engendered by this playful coming of age comedy would be heavily compromised if the audience were to be exposed to the everyday realities of Wooderson’s life as lived away from pool halls, Aerosmith concerts and the backseat of his Chevrolet. I would love to see a film that depicted the day-to-day drudgery of his job ‘in the city’ and the grim reality of the hangover suffered by a man approaching his thirties. It could be a drama in the style of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, presenting the portrait of a man so crippled with self-doubt he is unable to relate to his own peer group, so must ingratiate himself with the senior year students at his local High School. Each year he must watch his new friends leave him behind as they depart for the adult world from which he has been excluded.
In a recent study of black-headed Spider monkeys (yes it’s a real animal) it was shown that adolescent primates abandoned by their mothers or reared by particularly neglectful ones face an increased challenge when assimilating into their peer group. They tend to be improperly socialised and therefore unable to form bonds within their own cohort. They were most commonly embraced by a younger member of the group and formed closer ties to younger monkeys. Looking at the uncanny parallels in the behaviour of Wooderson and these fucked-up monkeys, I’d be very surprised if Linklater did not have a very similar back-story in mind when creating the character of David Wooderson. So next time you see a grown man in his late 20s/early 30s parked at the gates of your local sixth form college, pumping the latest indie hits from his VW Polo, resist the urge to laugh, or even key his car. In all likelihood you are looking at a very damaged, insecure man, who has never recovered from the trauma of being abandoned by his mother.