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EIFF 2012: Killer Joe, The Imposter and Fred

Day 2 in Edinburgh saw the European premiere of William Friedkin’s KILLER JOE and the opportunity to talk to both director and one of the stars, Gina Gershon, about their time on the project.

EIFF Artistic Director Chris Fujiwara spoke on his choice of KILLER JOE as the Festival’s opening film, saying that “there’s nothing wrong with being unconventional,” with his decision to choose Friedkin’s film down to the fact that it is both “accessible to a large audience and a beautiful piece of filmmaking.”

While it may be accessible to a large audience, Friedkin made it very clear that his film was “not targeting teenagers,” and that it is “the kind of film that challenges an audience,” while joking that he hoped he hadn’t lowered the level of the Festival set in Edinburgh’s “casual blend of the old and new.”

It is clear to see that Gina Gershon doesn’t believe Friedkin should be worried, stating how she wouldn’t “have done this movie with anyone else.” She went on to explain that she was “offered the play of this a long time ago, but doing eight shows a week would have been too brutal. But when I heard he was doing it, I thought that would be a great person to be directed by.”

It is a constant point of amazement that KILLER JOE is directed by a seventy-six year old. But this is William Friedkin, the helmer of THE EXORCIST, THE FRENCH CONNECTION and CRUISING and somebody who is very much at ease working with controversial subject matter. Never particularly comfortable viewing, but always a great deal of fun, the brutality and black humour that pepper the film are nothing short of delicious.

Setting Matthew McConaughey as a meticulous and cold presence right from his iconic introduction, he is effortlessly scary throughout, barely ever speaking above a calculated whisper and wholly committed to his phenomenal performance. Although you will miss him when he is not onscreen, there is plenty more to feast on, with Juno Temple’s angelic Dottie a muse-like and fascinating creation, while Thomas Haden Church is unintentionally hilarious as her father, Ansel, a man who definitely has a few screws missing.

Though Emile Hirsch yet again fails to reach his INTO THE WILD heights and is acted off the grid by a fierce and impressive Gina Gershon as his and Dottie’s stepmother, Tracy Lett’s script and Friedkin’s direction are so strong, that his dumb kid just about manages to avoid heavy criticism – even if it is rather hard to care for him.

While the film may contain a lot of comedy amongst its bleak and disturbing plot, it all becomes very real in an extended scene that takes place in the family’s kitchen, which will undoubtedly become an infamous piece of filmmaking.

A film that is very hard to pick holes in, KILLER JOE is in equal measure horrifying, fun, sick and twisted and is an enticing and seductive story of purity and sin. With the original play’s elements savoured to great effect, KILLER JOE is going to be very hard to beat at this Festival.

 

THE IMPOSTER could very well hold its place as one the Festival’s strongest films during the next two weeks. Haunting, mesmerising and questioning what it means to be a human being, Bart Layton’s documentary is very strong indeed.

Focusing on the 1994 disappearance of American teenager Nicholas Barclay, THE IMPOSTER tells the tale of the French man who stole his identity and made his way into the Barclay home – without the family noticing anything was different. With this imposter playing the role of our guide and narrator, Frederic Bourdin is impossible to take your eyes off; a brilliant actor with a disturbing need for attention.

Weaving the tale with a web of interviews, reconstructions and news footage, Layton has created something incredibly special that challenges your opinions on both humanity and the legal system at every turn. Frustrating and aggravating, THE IMPOSTER may leave you unsatisfied in regards to the incredible leniency of the handling of Bourdin, but it will move and upset you when opening with the family’s testimonies and the way in which some officials tried everything to understand this unique case.

No bed of roses, THE IMPOSTER will leave you very cold and possibly very angry, but it is a slick and incredibly impressive documentary that deserves a very large audience.

 

Richard Ledes’ FRED is a curious beast, dealing with the difficult subject of Alzheimer’s while also indulging in some unnecessary spiritual imagery at its open and close.

With sitcom undertones and the feeling that this could be Joanna Hogg’s look at an American family, Ledes successfully manages to combine humour and heartbreak for the most part. Though the comic touches are mainly a bittersweet coping mechanism for the family, the film’s strongest moment involves the music therapy the family take part in to engage Susan’s mind. While the camera techniques used during this scene are distracting and a touch bothersome, the sound of Susan’s laughter while singing with her family is a very tender and beautiful thing.

Judith Roberts’ performance as the dementia-stricken Susan may be the best part of the film, but Elliott Gould’s Fred (who is also starting to lose his memory) is a bumbling and stubborn character who carries the narrative with ease.

Though the brother-sister duo of Fred Melamed and Stephanie Roth Haberle may seem a little too affected and unrealistic at times, it still remains heartbreaking to witness their family unit have to make such tough decisions regarding their parent’s respective futures.

If you are expecting a lot to happen at great pace during FRED, well, it won’t. But it is slow and steady just like the fascinating central couple and is really worth investing your time in.

Pint-sized freelance film journalist. Editor of iamnotwaynegale.com, Reviews Editor at The Hollywood News and contributor to others. Awaiting a Hardy/Hiddleston/Cumberbatch/Fassbender/Gosling team-up.