Being from out of town I only managed a few days at this year’s festival. I wish I had been able to see Nicolas Provost’s The Invader which I heard great things about but here’s the pick of the movies I managed to catch while I was down there.
Killer Joe (William Friedkin)
Prior to his new film the opening the Edinburgh International Film Festival William Friedkin was at the Filmhouse for a special showing of his great crime thriller The French Connection (1971). Forty years later and Killer Joe feels like the work of a hotshot young director but that’s a backhanded compliment. It’s a dark and twisted tale channelling the same skewed Americanayou find in the novels of Barry Gifford, part thriller part fairytale. Based on a play by Tracy Letts, who also provided the material for Friedkin’s earlier Bug (2006), Friedkin opens out the action so even with the dialogue heavy scenes it never seems stagey. Yet Killer Joe is all surface with not much underneath. Witty in its deconstruction of the effects of the economic crisis and an overlying moral decay at the heart of a society where monetary gain is placed above all else, the film’s main flaw is it simply does not give a damn about these people. It works effectively as post-feminist revisionist fairytale in which the female victim tames the big bad wolf but that was done better by Matthew Bright in his Freeway movies.
McConaughey’s much vaunted lead performance falls flat. I kept looking at McConaughey in his cowboy hat and couldn’t help wishing for the easy but menacing charm of Timothy Olyphant. Juno Templehowever is remarkable as the otherwordly Dottie, a little girl lost with sharp teeth, at once innocent and yet far more dangerous than any of her dysfunctional family or the various killers and ne’er-do-wells who appear throughout the film. It says a lot about the MPAA that such a tame film has been denied a USrelease because of Friedkin’s refusal to bow to their demands for cuts. I’m guessing a close-up of Gina Gershon’s bush would be on the MPAA’S hit list but it is telling while both female leads go full frontal Matthew McConaughey’s genitals are discreetly hidden away. It’s that kind of film, plenty of front but no balls
Grabbers (Jon Wright)
Possibly the best film I’ve seen in which a drunken Irishman kicks an alien to death, Grabbers was a pleasant surprise. Imagine an Irish Local Hero crossed with 80’s horror films like Tremors and Ghoulies and you have an idea of what to expect as a small island is invaded by squid like creatures with a taste for human blood. Richard Coyle (Pusher) is charming as the feckless Garda officer who is perked up by the arrival of an uptight colleague (Ruth Bradley) from the mainland. With a witty screenplay, impressive CGI, and a great supporting cast including Bronagh Gallagher (Pulp Fiction) Grabbers deserves to reach as wide an audience as possible.
Dragon (Peter Chan)
Highly entertaining martial arts film choreographed by star Donnie Yen with a great performance from Takeshi Kaneshiro as a troubled detective piecing together how a country bumpkin Liu Jin-xi (Yen) not only survives a confrontation with two ruthless killers but somehow leaves them both dead. Peter Chan’s film is an intriguing and thoughtful addition to the Wu Xia genre. A Chinese variation on David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence its plot grips as the audience is left wondering whether Jin-xi is who he claims to be or Xu Bia-jiu (Kaneshiro) is imagining things that aren’t there.
Shadow Dancer (James Marsh)
This understated thriller is a throwback to the kind of films that British and Irish cinema regularly produced about the Troubles in the 80’s and early 90’s. Set in 1993 just before the peace process begins to take hold Shadow Dancer is based on a novel by former journalist Tom Bradby. Director James Marsh, better known for his documentary work, has an eye for detail and the film is certainly gripping. Single mother and IRA volunteer Collette (Andrea Riseborough) finds herself forced to tout for the British security forces by MI5 operative Mac (Clive Owen) but unforeseen events put her life in serious danger as IRA hardman Mulville (David Wilmot) starts asking questions. Shadow Dancer is well acted and interesting but there is nothing here we haven’t seen before in those earlier films which were contemporaneous and had an urgency about them that is missing here.
“Frankie my friend, you owe me money.”
Sadly not a Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009, Werner Herzog) style reworking with the premise of an earlier film turned into something strange and new, this flashy remake moves the action from Copenhagen to London and mimics the style and plot of Nicolas Winding Refn‘s debut Pusher (1996, ) but fails to capture its emotional intensity. Frank (Richard Coyle) botches a drug deal after getting lifted by the police while carrying gear borrowed from amiable gangster Milo (once again played by Zlatko Burić who appeared in all three of Refn’s Pusher movies). While comparisons are inevitable Luis Prieto’s film remains watchable enough thanks to a charismatic turn from former Coupling star Coyle cast against type and the strength of Refn’s narrative which still grips from the moment Frank finds himself in trouble.
There is plenty of gangster movie posturing in Refn’s movie but there was a sense these people had inner lives; that they existed outside the clichés of the genre. In one memorable sequence the towering Serbian enforcer Radovan (Slavko Labovic) spoke of his dream of retiring from a life of ripping out kneecaps and opening a restaurant. Most of the characters seemed trapped by their circumstances be it poverty or their involvement in crime. Moments of reflection are skimmed over in the remake. There is a hamfisted attempt at conveying the human cost of Frank’s trade with a harmless old shopkeeper being leaned on a little too heavily but when Prieto cuts to a close-up of a dog sadly observing the aftermath the effect is anything but subtle.
You could understand why Kim Bodnia’s Frank worked with Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen). These two seemed like friends and Frank was a thug, smarter than Tonny but not by much. Coyle’s Frank is more intelligent and would surely figure Tony (Bronson Webb) for a liability long before he lands him in it. While Coyle and Burić are effective the rest of the cast act like they are in an episode of The Bill. Agyness Deyn looks far too healthy for a woman who is supposed to be hooked on drugs and desperate to escape from her destructive lifestyle. Pusher 2012 is an interesting film to watch for long-time admirers of Refn, though a new entry in the series would have been preferable. The film is worth seeing however for Coyle, the impressive neon-tinged visuals by cinematographer Simon Dennis, and the score by Orbital.