08 November 2010

The Killer Inside Me

**** (4 stars)

In the tradition of "Frailty" and "The Minus Man" comes Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of the 1952 Jim Thompson classic, "The Killer Inside Me". I've already added the book to my Goodreads account. Starring Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Elias Koteas (LOVE!), Ned Beatty, and Simon Baker.

Lou Ford (Affleck) is the deputy sheriff in small town Texas who mostly keeps to himself and seems nice enough, if a bit dim witted. He's got the perfect girl (Hudson) and the perfect life. All this changes when he meets a prostitute (Alba) who awakens his sexual and maniacal desires. This new sheriff is a man afflicted with "the sickness" he thought he had defeated in his childhood. Now the main suspect in a double murder, can we outwit the local prosecutor (Baker) and live the new life he's created or is his secret destined to destroy him?

The book was previously made into a movie in 1976 and starred Stacy Keach. I haven't seen that version but I find it hard to imagine Keach in the role. Affleck on the other hand proves his worth and establishes himself as one of the best actor's of our generation, completely separate from any association with his brother (not that that's a bad thing anymore, Ben Affleck is proving himself a very capable director). Lest we forget, he is an Academy Award nominated actor as well ("The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"), and has turned in good work in "Gone Baby Gone" and "Lonesome Jim" (which I hated, but it wasn't his fault). I am highly anticipating his starring turn in Ridley Scott's upcoming "The Kind One". His face, voice, and body melt into this character. It takes an innate sensibility to find the humanity and sympathy behind a man with loose morals and ethics. At the same time, it's a story of both love and survival. That so many themes and layers can be found is testement to Thompson's book and John Curran (previously a director of films such as "The Painted Veil" and "We Don't Live Here Anymore") screenplay. It is a cautionary tale of the sacrifices one makes when they've done wrong and a walk up call to the warning signs sociopath's always seem to give off in these films. How long can you cover your tracks? When does luck run out? As Sheriff Maples (Tom Bower) says, "It's lightest just before the darkness". So this motto becomes a prophecy and highlights the subtle shift in the movie as it leans away from romance and further into madness. This realization hits Lou late in the film, but he has the calm sense of self and mind to know "you can't kill a dead man".

Alba seems out of place. There's a woodiness (is that a word?) to her acting that is magnified in her scenes with Affleck. She's a TV actress, not the film star her agents are trying to make her out to be. In her characters pivotal scene, I was jolted out of the story to wonder who advised her to play it so cool during a savage beating? What happened to survival instinct? Is she that much in love? The whole scene in question is horribly false and lacks the melodrama it should illicit. In comparison with Hudson's character, hers is the least fleshed out. Maybe it's because we only see her as a sexual object that we find it so difficult to believe she would stand there and take it. Really? The girl who slapped and punched Lou when they first met. What happened to that girl?

Speaking of Hudson, I wish she would step outside her comfort zone more often. This role is rich in the female submissiveness that we think of in the 50s. She loves her man and allows him to do things to her that she normally wouldn't do. In complete contrast to Alba, we understand her motivations. This is the man she has been in love with for years, who plans to marry her, who will make her honest.

It is still Affleck's movie though. He is scary in the ways adults find frightful. Not as a monster who lurks under the bed, but as the seemingly charming one that lives next door. A Bundy figure long before Bundy was a killer too. We watch him justify his actions and feelings, and go along for the ride. Winterbottom's use of voice over narrative would normally drive me crazy (I think it's lazy), however it works here. We can hear his thoughts, his processes, his observations of his own actions.

Winterbottom has made it his career to observe and report human behavior. He reserves judgement for the audience and it is this removed perspective that allows him to produce high caliber films. Further viewing is required of: Wonderland, 24 Hour Party People, 9 Songs (very adult/mature), A Mighty Heart, and his award winning documentary Road to Guantanamo.

Marcel Zyskind's cinematography is a bit distracting at times. What could be powerful long takes of Lou walking towards the prostitutes home, leaving the office; instead are left long enough only to show us the kind of mood and atmosphere we could have had. Much of this can really be attributed to Mags Arnold's editing. In the hands of a more experienced editor, the small holes and jumps that momentarily leave the viewer scratching their head could have been avoided.

I don't know why I didn't see this when it was released. I remember reading about it a lot and getting excited, but maybe it didn't play in Dallas. Kind of odd, we seem to get most movies now. I would have loved to experience this in the theatre, seen who walks out and when. I do recommend it for anyone who likes mysteries, and critical character studies. If you didn't like the two films I mentioned at the head of this post, skip entirely.

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