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‘Killer Joe’ review

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Orlando Bloom is a decent baddie in this lurid, uneven thriller

INTERVIEW: Orlando Bloom on playing a killer

Beloved film elf Orlando Bloom is not the obvious actor to play a sociopathic hitman, which is presumably the point in him taking on the title role of Tracy Letts’s bloody 1993 thriller ‘Killer Joe’.

He does a pretty good job, too, though he is still burdened by those pesky good looks. I’m not being totally glib here: 41-year-old dad Bloom could probably pass for a buff late twentysomething, and it makes murderous moonlighting cop Joe seem fractionally less creepy than he could be when he demands 20-year-old Dottie (a serious Sophie Cookson) as physical downpayment for the hit her dirt poor father wants to take out on his ex-wife.

Indeed, grim as their relationship may sound on paper, here Dottie and Joe seem like a half-plausible couple, and Joe never feels quite as horrifying as he might. But he is still pretty horrifying, and Bloom’s youthful take is interesting, less a figure of nightmare, more like a high school bully whose desire to remain top dog has been taken to its bleak conclusion.

Essentially a black comedy about the transactional nature of American society, Letts’s story is both gripping and fairly daft. It concerns a group of very poor, very desperate people living on a trailer park, and there’s something icky about its view of class – it’s pretty much suggested that these people behave like this because that’s how poor people live. I think there’s some issue of tone here – Simon Evans’s production only seems sporadically happy to embrace the humour in Lett’s text, with the exception of Adam Gillen is completely OTT as Dottie’s brother Chris, shambling around like some mad scientist’s henchman.

Still, it’s undeniably pacey and involving, with great sound design from Edward Lewis and some really nifty flourishes from director Evans. Joe’s unsettling ‘seduction’ of Dottie to the tinny strains of Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’ is exquisitely unsettling; the final, stylised fight at the end is gloriously weird and Lynchian.

As with the works of Sam Shepard or David Mamet, it’s easy enough to see why British directors are drawn to these hard, dark, action-packed, fairly short sorts of American play, which don’t really have a UK equivalent.

And ‘Killer Joe’ certainly proves that – maddeningly youthful looks accepted – Bloom can give good villain. Still, given that his presence in the cast would get pretty much any play revived, I was frequently stuck thinking: Why this one? But there are enough lurid thrills here to send the casual theatregoer out into the night with the right sort of shiver.

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski

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Price:
£15-£75. Runs 2hr 5min
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