Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

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(Dir. Michael Winterbottom, 2010)

Casey Affleck has spent the Spring of his employment defining latent menace in American cinema. His youthful but sorrow-pricking features are a realisation of the sinister male as imagined by a thousand authors. And his pale complexion and hoarse, squeaking vocals have empowered eerie semiotics like no other breakthrough-actor of this generation, pumping film lovers with toxic butterflies in Gone Baby Gone and (sometimes I feel this blog is a love letter to...) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. So when Winterbottom planned to direct John Curran's screenplay-adaptation of Jim Thompson's psycho noir classic about a serial-killer deputy-sheriff, Affleck readied to take control over another godsend of a script, and the prejudiced eagerness and disgust towards this project began on their uncompromising orbits.

Affleck plays first-person narrator and deputy sheriff, Lou Ford, in a quiet town in 1950s Texas. He is seen in public as a chivalrous protector. In private, he is a manipulator and a serial killer. As the movie unfolds we learn that Ford sexually abused a little girl when he was younger, but his brother took the blame. Released from prison, Ford's brother dies in an accident on anti-union businessman, Jim Conway's property. Ford is assigned to blackmail a prostitute (an impressive Jessica Alba) into incriminating Conway or she will be persecuted herself. Instead, they begin a violent affair. The film tells the widespread consequences of what happens when this violence gets out of hand, and Ford's mask of innocence begins to wear off.

Winterbottom's sociopath is precise. On a pragmatic visit to the district prison, Ford's official badge glints in the light that sheds ironical liberty and dubious visibility, as he paces through, grinning on the wrong side of bars. He can not even evince a glance into the cells where imprisoned are the men whose crimes can not compete with their pathological master's. This is because we have just witnessed Casey Affleck punching Jessica Alba until her face resembles a "hamburger". After a scene of biting and sweating and sharp thrusts, where the gulf in meaning between love-making and fucking has never been so conspicuous in mainstream cinema, Ford loses his control but not his cool, inflicting the work of the devil unflinchingly.

This incredibly acutely directed violence (the beating is an exercise in alliteration) occurs twice in the movie, deafeningly punctuating, but not overshadowing, the surrounding two hours of expert noir - in which country melodies score Ford's folly. One particularly amusing, or at least satisfying sequence, sees Ford slipping over before chasing a witness into the road with a kitchen knife; his beaten, immobile girlfriend smiling at his humiliation. Both his prostitute and girlfriend (Kate Hudson) are under his complete control, and here is the sharp point at the end of Winterbottom's spear that has divided opinion (and emotion) worldwide. Ford's male victims do not suffer as atrociously as the women on screen, unlike in Thompson's novel. What this adds to the cinematic experience is clear. Winterbottom has chosen to build a story around merciless domestic abuse in an especially patriarchal society.

The feminist voice is protected as opposed to obliterated: everyone has lost because of a reckless, insane man. Women are portrayed longing to be sexually and violently oppressed, yet no more than men are dehumanised, stripped of reason and of peace. We can choose to review The Killer Inside Me from a feminist or misogynistic perspective. Or - sensibly, and of more interest - neither. Brilliantly, Winterbottom opts for the humour championed by new-noir, Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. As the film draws to its close, Ford orchestrates his own demonized Poirot assembly, gathering all the familiar (surviving) characters and an extra whom he tells, "You keep your mouth shut, I didn't give you any lines". The audience, amazed at its ability to laugh, is reprieved from anxiety. It's a bitter show, and like most motion pictures, it culminates with credits, the white font of each victim shuffling into useless black space.

The nightmare is inside, interior, despite the wrapping paper of the vast continent, our safety-veil throughout, as car and house windows separate rolling camera from impending horror. "The problem is everyone thinks they know who you are": Ford's introductory narration resonates in the fists, blades, black gloves and warped privacy. The title is a pun that requires a second or third glance. We know Ford's psychopathy, and that no amount of reading, piano-playing or service to his community will purge. But it's also a reference to the tragic heroines, their sexual colonisation, abuse and suffering, as well as the contamination of the police force, which consists of the remaining significant players.

The Killer Inside Me is a portrait whose distorted face and primeval purpose are softened by some playful, pantomime fingers (it's okay to laugh). At its most eloquent, the film is also a bloodied Mona Lisa, avenging from every untrite angle in a room where, in one terse frame, the Bible and Freud brush shoulders on hell's bookshelf. There are mirrors at work, and Lou Ford's flashbacks and command of his fate mean that any violence is cyclical as well as total. A dusty, salty tour de force, The Killer Inside Me is not for the faint hearted.

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