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Gratuitous or necessary? You decide…

02/01/2011

Over the last four days we have had a house guest in the form of our lovely friend Gwen. She has spent the last eight months roving the wilds of Englandshire opening stores and providing HR support for the retail giant she works for and so on her occasional visits back home she is effectively homeless. As I had (coincidentally) the four days she was going to be here for off work we insisted she stay with us. She’s a great friend and has been a lovely house guest (I didn’t expect anything less) and its been nice having somebody else in the house to join in the new year festivities. The downside (insignificant as it is) of having her stay though has been the restrictions it has placed on my viewing habits. When you have someone sleeping in your living room it’s a little bit rude to start watching films while they try to sleep off their excesses under your feet. So it was then that an early attempt at watching The Killer Inside Me on Blu Ray on Friday had to be aborted and ended up being rescheduled for yesterday evening.

It was worth the wait to be able to enjoy it in all it’s dark and brooding glory with no distractions.

I’d heard a lot about the film when it was getting it’s run in the cinema, a mixture of praise and outright criticism and I have been waiting patiently for the opportunity to form my own opinion. It’s got one of those slightly twisty Film Noir plots so if you continue to read this there will be undoubted spoilers for those unfamiliar with the film.

Set in a sleepy little Texas town it follows the exploits of Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford (played by Casey Affleck in fine form). Ford is sent to run hooker Joyce (Jessica Alba) out of town but instead becomes embroiled in a sado masochist affair with her. The mild mannered, conservative Ford shows us within five minutes that he is capable of not only dealing out savage violence to Joyce but that he clearly enjoys it. Joyce suggests a ploy to shakedown local property kingpin Chester Conway (a tremendously inhuman Ned Beatty) by exploiting her professional relationship with his son. Ford sees this as an opportunity to settle an old score with Conway senior and what follows is a tightening spiral of betrayal and murder that reveals Ford in all his sadistic fury as his paranoia increases and the net of investigators closes on him.

Jessica Alba looking sultry as Joyce

It doesn’t pull any punches. Within minutes of the fabulously old school opening credits sequence the state of play is very much established. The butter wouldn’t melt, manners are everything Ford runs only skin deep, a facade to conceal the sadistic lunatic that lurks within. Ford’s inner demons reveal themselves more and more as the film progresses. Herein lies the controversy that some of the reports of the film seemed concerned with. There are two scenes in particular of brutal, graphic violence where Ford savagely beats Joyce and his other lover Amy (played by Kate Hudson). In these scenes director Michael Winterbottom makes what I think is a very brave decision not to shy away from the violence. He puts us in there with Ford as he literally caves in the face of Joyce and kicks fiancee Amy to death on his kitchen floor. It forces us to face the violence head on, to feel the punches. There is nothing glib and throwaway here. These are no mere plot devices. You feel it and it’s sickening. I have read articles that accuse the film of being mysogynistic and of revelling in violence against women for entertainment. These articles (willfully or foolishly) have missed the point.

The overriding theme of the film is the conflict between the facade and the internal. The town that on the surface is peaceful and sleepy and polite has a rotten core of corruption and violence. The Deputy Sheriff who keeps the peace is responsible for terrible crimes. Very little is as it seems. It reminds me very much of Lynch’s Blue Velvet but also similar modern Noir masterpieces like No Country For Old Men or The Man Who Wasn’t there.

Interestingly it makes no attempt to justify Ford’s actions but does offer explanations for his deeds. The flashbacks he experiences as his violence escalates give hints as to how his psyche has developed. Somehow Winterbottom succeeds in making Ford strangely sympathetic, helped in no small way by Affleck’s outstanding performance. Here is a villain who has depth. There is no black and white in this film. The powers rallied against Ford seem no purer or more just than he does. Chester Conway especially seems intent on making him suffer for his crimes, not because he wants to avenge the death of his son but because he cannot believe that someone would have the audacity to strike against him in this way. As such you find yourself rooting for Ford despite his monstrous nature and the discomfort this causes is one of the keys to the film’s success. This is felt most vividly in the savagely unredemptive finale where the pieces fall into place and Ford, stripped of his options by the deviousness of his pursuers, denies them the satisfaction of his arrest.

It really is a fantastic film. It’s subtlety belies the brutality and it avoids casting judgements on the characters, preferring instead to let you form your own opinion. Being able to shed a sympathetic light on a maniac like Lou Ford is a formidable accomplishment. The notion that we are all damaged and hide it behind forced smiles and false politeness is a mirror that perhaps some critics couldn’t stand to look in. What it certainly isn’t is mysoginistic and it doesn’t revel in the violenced meted out to Joyce and Amy, instead asking questions as to why anyone would dole out such violence or worse yet take pleasure and solace from being on the receiving end. It’s tough going, but definitely worth it.

Click here to watch the trailer at IMDB

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