Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tribeca ’10: The Killer Inside Me

Born in Oklahoma when it was still a territory, Jim Thompson perfected the hardboiled, hardscrabble small town crime novel, but would only be recognized as a master after his death. His critical renaissance was accelerated by a series of French and Hollywood film adaptations of his dark stories, the most notable being Stephen Frears’s The Grifters. Already generating plenty of controversy following its reception at Sundance and the Berlinale, the latest Thompson movie treatment, Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me is currently screening as a selection of the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford is supposedly from a good family, but his upbringing has mentally twisted him, particularly with respects to his relationships with women. When sent to mildly roust Joyce Lakeland, a working girl plying her trade just outside city limits, his dark inner urges are suddenly uncorked. Although it seems creepy, Lakeland falls for Ford, despite his rough treatment. Though his attraction borders on obsession, Ford seems to know their relationship is unsustainable, so when he has the opportunity, he plots to kill her and the son of the town’s wealthy developer, with whom he holds a grudge.

Of course, killing just begets more killing, but Ford doesn’t seem to mind much. He is a classic snake-charming sociopath, but as the film’s narrator and POV character, his omnipresence is a double-edged sword throughout Killer. It is compelling to get inside his head, but the cumulative effect of his violent nihilism eventually becomes tiring.

Evidently quite faithful to the source novel, Killer nicely evokes the harsh desolation of the West Texas setting to heighten the noir atmosphere. Winterbottom shows a strong affinity for the one-terrible-thing-after-another pacing of Thompson’s hard-edged noir. However, his lurid fascination with Ford’s violent hang-ups is more than a bit excessive.

Casey Affleck is perfectly cast, outwardly looking the picture of “aw-shucks” rectitude, but convincingly reveling in Ford’s narcissism and thuggery. Somewhat playing against type as well, Jessica Alba does her best with Lakeland’s almost indefensible choices, while Kate Hudson is surprisingly credible as Amy Stanton, Ford’s respectable long-term girlfriend. Elias Koteas and Bill Pullman also supply some genre appropriate color to the proceedings in small but memorable supporting turns.

There is just a bit too much in Killer. As a general rule, suggestion is always more effective than illustration on the big screen, but Winterbottom leaves little to the imagination. A well crafted but grueling film noir, Killer screens again today (4/29) and Friday (4/30).