Killer Joe

 Opening the 2012 Edinburgh International Film Festival in macabre style is this extremely black comedy from William Friedkin, renowned mostly for the Exorcist and French Connection. Starring Matthew McConaughey ,as the films protagonist and namesake, alongside a strong supporting cast which includes an overwrought and tense Emile Hirsch plus a docile Thomas Haden Church, a wily Gina Gershon and an ethereal Juno Temple. The film pulls no punches-of which there are many- in its graphic moments and powers along on a narrative which is convoluted but easy to follow although there is little chance of second guessing or out-manoeuvring the twists in the plot as the characters are each one more depraved than the other.

The tale unfolds around the drug debts run up by perma-loser Chris (Hirsch) who engages in a life insurance scam which relies on the death of his mother, Adele, to dig him out of the financial hole he has fallen into. Requiring assistance in this he involves his father (Church) and his cuckolding wife( Gershon) in his plan to enlist the services of professional killer and erstwhile police detective Killer Joe (McConaughey). The main beneficiary of the insurance however is Chris’s younger sister Dottie who seems untainted, so far, by the malevolence and malignancy which lingers in those around her. When they can’t meet Joe’s advance to have Adele killed however Dottie is offered up as a retainer to satisfy his questionable lusts and here the first of many twists in the narrative occur.

The action –and violence- only intensifies after Adele’s death however and whilst the audience may make brave attempts to second guess the plot it is clever enough to fool them at every turn as the characters each try to outguess each other and fail. All except Joe and, eventually, Dottie-he because he is so corrupt and her because of her purity- as each one emerges as more desperate and vile than the other and only willing to further their own ends at whatever cost.

Friedkin has coaxed strong performances out of each of his actors but it is McConaughey who shines with a droll delivery which is as deadpan as it is horrifying. As usual he manages to take his top-and trousers- off to reveal the toned torso which has gained him commercial success if very little kudos as an actor. He is not alone in his nudity however as each character performs naked at some point as if Friedkin is trying to show that even stripped bare they still have layers of devious capabilities which don’t even require the armour of clothes to shield behind.

Friedkin has also managed to create that difficult mix of black comedy and social insight successfully and shows not only a family in decline but a whole section of society who are so desperate they will use any means-and anyone- to get what they want. Alternating between harsh brutality,extreme violence and dry, dark humour it is not one for the squeamish but the cinematography is never less than exquisite.  capturing the garishness of the characters and their surroundings perfectly. It is an interesting and brave choice for the Festival opener but I believe it is also a wise one.

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