My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
This week’s reviews focus on the work of William Friedkin.
Killer Joe (2011)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
It seems William Friedkin and Tracy Letts were a match made in heaven (or hell?). Between this film and Bug, it’s clear that the filmmaker and playwright were creatively meant to be together. Friedkin’s style and outlook on humanity is perfect for Letts’ material and I wish he’d adapt more of his plays. It’s a shame he wasn’t the one to bring August: Osage County to the screen.
On a second viewing, Killer Joe isn’t quite as astonishing but there’s just nothing like seeing a movie like this for the first time. Still, the performances are all incredible, the writing is sharp and hilarious in the darkest way, the visuals and direction should be the textbook for how to adapt a stage play for film. Friedkin is not only the perfect filmmaker for this playwright’s work but he might be the greatest director of play adaptations. Just the other day, my friend Gus and I were fantasizing about what a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf remake might look like with Billy at the helm.
Watched on Amazon Prime.
The Hunted (2003)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
One of Friedkin’s late career best efforts and a film that got (and continues to get) swept up in the Tommy Lee Jones-Fugitive rip-offs of the late 90s, The Hunted is due for re-evaluation. If it is a variation on The Fugitive, it’s much better than the direct sequel U.S. Marshals and I have nothing good to say about the unwatchable Double Jeopardy. No, Friedkin’s thriller is in a class of its own. Also, this is a very different film. Jones is not a ruthless Javert-like detective. He’s a calm, calculating tracker who seems to regret the lethal training he administered. Del Toro is not “the wrong man” like Harrison Ford. He’s a physologically damaged killing machine. But he is human and the film shows that.
Yes, I wish it took a little more time to explore its themes but in his Tommy Lee Jones two-pack from the early 2000s (this and Rules of Engagement), Friedkin is clearly exploring the military, its actions, and effects in a more serious way than any other action director. And it is the action that really makes this film remarkable. Could Friedkin be the master of the chase? From French Connection to To Live and Die in L.A., he not only knows how to make a car chase exhilirating but he can do the same thing with his characters on foot. The mid-picture sequence here is astounding. Also, Friedkin understands that a chase sequence can’t be good unless it furthers the story and all of his shed light on the nature of his characters. The finale fight is also excellent. I love the fight choreography, the way the characters are get hurt when they get hit, and the brutality of their battle.
Watched on Amazon Prime (for the second time)
Friedkin Uncut (2018)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
This is an above average filmmaker profile, mostly because of Friedkin’s presence and his blunt delivery. There are some good other interviews as well, specifically it was nice to hear Walter Hill’s admiring thoughts.
I wish the film dug a little more into Billy’s wild reputation, talking about his now-controversial set methods like slapping actors. It would be great to hear stories about actors who didn’t like his style, such as John Turturro. To me, that would have only strengthened this portrayal of a one-of-a-kind storyteller. Docs that are simply adoring don’t have the same impact as those that acknowledge the good/bad in their subject. The Milius documentary shows his flaws and that’s why it’s one of the best.
I also wish they’d talked about some rather underrated films in his body of work like The Hunted and some of his misfires like Jade.
Watched on Tubi
Conversation with Fritz Lang (1975)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
It’s hard for me to judge this film because I hav very little interest in its subject and Friedkin’s conversation with him does not move that needle. Fritz Lang is a filmmaker I’ve struggled to appreciate. Perhaps one day that will change but in the meantime, this hour and a half talk with him confirms my current position.
It doesn’t help that more than a third of the runtime has nothing to do with film, instead focusing on a prolonged story of Lang’s “escape” from Nazi Germany (which I discovered may be quite embellished from a recent BBC podcast). When they do talk about movies, the only works discussed in detail are Metropolis and M. It’s always a disappointment to me when these conversations don’t touch on the breath of a director’s work, only focusing on the “hits”. Friedkin pushes Lang to analyze his work in a political/social context and Fritz resists but the interaction isn’t a fun back-and-forth like Peter Bogdanovich’s conversation with John Ford. The talk only comes alive in the last 15 minutes when Billy and Fritz have a true discussion, throwing ideas at each other in a more active debate.
Again, it’s hard to judge the effectiveness of this piece for other viewers. I will say that I’m glad it exists.
Watched on YouTube