In a sleepy Texan town Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch), a reckless drifter and hopeless twenty-something, finds himself in debt to a local gangster. If he fails to pay up within the next few weeks his life will be forfeit, however, he's recently discovered that his estranged mother has a life insurance policy which will more than cover the amount he owes. He turns to 'Killer' Joe Cooper, a Dallas detective who moonlights as an assassin, the only problem is that he doesn’t have enough cash for a down payment. Enter Dottie (Juno Temple), Chris' peculiar sister who Joe takes an instant liking to, agreeing to keep her as a retainer for his services. However, when things turn sour Joe's newly intimate relationship with this dysfunctional family culminates in a spiralling series of shocking events.
Matthew McConaughey steals the show with his performance as the film's titular anti-hero. Clearly deranged yet incredibly likeable, he exudes a fierce charm that culminates in the audience both fearing him yet feeling strangely subdued whenever he's not on screen. A career changing role that combines his cocky, self-assured demeanour from Dazed and Confused (1993) with a sociopathic intensity akin to Woody Harrelson's star-making role in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994). It's a role that could so easily have descended into pantomime villainy with McConaughey's restrained yet screen stealing approach the key ingredient to the film's overall success, turning his sinister hit-man into a relatively angelic presence who's candour shines against the backdrop of an exceedingly detestable family dynamic.
It's hard to imagine a better opening film for this year's Edinburgh Film Festival than Killer Joe, which contains all the ingredients required of a high-brow festival film with subversive humour and repugnant violence framing a dark morality tale that whilst perfectly at home amongst the hordes of cinephiles in attendance, may perhaps be too much for a conventional audience.
The 66th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 20 June-1 July, 2012. For more of our EIFF 2012 coverage, simply follow this link.