Film review: Killer Joe

THIS year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival gets off to a gleefully deranged start tonight with the British premiere of William Friedkin’s Killer Joe, a twisted family saga in which greed, desperation and idiocy abound, and horrible things are done with fried chicken.

Killer Joe (18)

Directed by: William Friedkin

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon


Based on a provocative play by Tracy Letts that had its international debut at the Edinburgh Fringe back in 1994 (launching the career of Boardwalk Empire star Michael Shannon in the process), it’s the story of Chris (Emile Hirsch), a debt-ridden drug dealer who conspires with his slack-jawed father (Thomas Haden Church), his conniving step-mother (Gina Gershon), and his sweet-but-oddball sister (Juno Temple) to bump off his no-good mother in order to cash in on her life insurance.

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Texan trailer trash to the core, Chris knows none of them have the wherewithal to pull off the job, so hires ‘Killer’ Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a professional hitman whose day job as a detective makes covering up his tracks more convenient.

McConaughey is something of a revelation here, tapping into a sleazy side that was hinted at in in Dazed & Confused, but subsequently buried as he pursued a lucrative career playing shirtless leading men in worthless rom-coms.

Backed up by a fearless cast revelling in the redneck awfulness of Letts’ pugnacious characters, he’s the coolly amoral centre around which a fired-up Friedkin crafts an increasingly depraved tale of betrayal that transcends the theatrical origins of its source material while refusing to pull its punches.

Virtually from the opening scene – a ludicrous full-frontal shot of Gershon – to the hyper-violent finale, the 76-year-old Friedkin throws everything at the characters, riffing a little on his back catalogue (the tautness of The French Connection, the shock of The Exorcist, the scuzziness of Cruising) to deliver his most vital film in years.