Monday, October 04, 2010

Michael Winterbottom

West Texas deputy sheriff Lou Ford delights in regaling the local townsfolk with sugar-coated bromides when he's not pummeling prostitutes near death with his bare hands. His badge serves as a nifty cover for these deep-set murderous impulses (a "sickness" he's had since childhood), as does the polite smile, the tip of a ten-gallon that he employs to greater effect than any service revolver. Watch out when Lou is chatting you up about the scorcher of a day it is outside -- he's likely plotting your death behind that wide toothy smile.

Or, at least, that's how it went in the novel. Michael Winterbottom's adaption of the classic Jim Thompson pulper takes a more distanced "European" approach and proves less effective for it. The fantastic first-person narration of the book which brings you so uncomfortably close to the workings of Ford's deranged mind is mostly lost in the film version apart from a smattering of voice-over employed during the down times between plot points. Admittedly, the first-person confessional is harder to pull off on film unless you're willing go wall-to-wall voice-over ala Taxi Driver or Fight Club or set a camera on the protagonist's shoulder and go full-tilt first person ala Lady in the Lake or Gaspar Noe's recent Enter the Void. Either of these approaches may have benefited the film, which instead of playing like a Deep South version of Crime and Punishment or Notes from the Underground, now plays like a duller southern-fried episode of Dexter. You don't judge Ford or yourself so much for rubber-necking these brutal killings as you do Winterbottom for filming Jessica Alba's face getting pummeled repeatedly with blank detachment.

The casting doesn't help matters. Although Casey Affleck delivers a perfectly credible performance and fine corn-pone accent as Lou Ford, he's lacking something in the charisma department that made the novel version Ford such a worrisome charmer. The casting of the lady folk is a bit more misguided. Alba's distinctly modern beauty and gym-fit body type just didn't jibe with the Joyce in the book or the 50s decade,  she gives the dark material an admirable college try. Kate Hudson, on the other hand, is just plain bad as Lou's virginal girl-next-door fiance. You begin to wonder if she read the script, much less the book.

There are some good scenes with the always reliable Elias Koteas who plays a union delegate who's onto Ford. There's a nifty old country soundtrack and some appropriately parched West Texas cinematography. I hate to be one of those "the-book-is-better-than-the-movie" blow-hards. But, yeah, in the case of The Killer Inside Me, you might want to drop the Winterbottom version from your Netflix queue, pop the Thompson paperback on your Kindle instead.

No comments: