Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Boredom Inside Me -- Reflections on "The Killer Inside Me" (2010)

Is it my fault that Jessica Alba only seems to act better with her clothes off?

I remember reading The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson's crime novel about a sociopathic small town Deputy Sheriff, and loving everything about it. It was dark, chilling, and different. Thompson had a knack for putting you into the head of his wretched protagonist and making you somehow understand him. He was a great-grandfather for characters like Dexter Morgan.

Yet, Michael Winterbottom's film version of Thompson's novel is slow, ponderous, and...well...boring.

Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is a Deputy Sheriff with a boy scout reputation. One day he is sent to the outskirts of his small West Texas town to send a young prostitute named Joyce (Jessica Alba) packing. Instead of running her off, Lou starts a sadomasochistic relationship* with her that both confuse as love. Lou uses this relationship as both an escape from the prison of his traditional relationship with Amy (Kate Hudson), and as an chance for revenge against Chester Conway (Ned Beatty), the town patriarch, who's foolish son has been paying for Joyce's services.

* Earlier this year at Sundance, Killer was one of the more controversial and notable entries because of scenes of violence involving women. Especially of note is a scene in which [spoiler alert] Lou murders Joyce with a brutal beating. It is one of the film's strongest moments in terms of acting and directing, and is one of the only times during the film that I was fully engaged in the events. Because of this, it is easy to accuse the film of misogyny, and it might even be warranted.

The premise sounds exciting, and it is. Unfortunately, the film's pace is constipated. The movie starts great, but it's middle plods around like an old person in a walker, when it should have been zooming like a well-tuned Camaro. Part of the problem is the editing, which allows too many shots to drag in an attempt to develop suspense and menace -- unfortunately the sets are so bare and antiseptic that there isn't enough to look at, so were left staring at Casey Affleck's leering, vacant face too much.

This is not Affleck's fault, and he continues to develop a great resume to showcase his acting chops. For as frustrating as Winterbottom's direction and editing are, the acting is terrific. Affleck makes Lou Ford extremely chilling, and it's a testament to his abilities that I didn't stop watching. In addition, Jessica Alba sort of redeems herself by playing a complex role with subtlety. Granted, she's a whore in the movie, but it's her wide-eyed innocence that makes the performance effective. Even Kate Hudson, whom I usually can't stand (except in the the classic Almost Famous), puts in fine work as the girlfriend, Amy, whose sadness at being held at arms length by the emotionally distant Lou is good stuff to watch.

I just wish the production had been able to provide better sets, edits, and music for its solid acting core and quality script.

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