Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Killer Inside Me (2010, Michael Winterbottom)

One directorial intuition that made Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde such a powerful and dangerous film is the way the progression of its violent content is mirrored in its form. What begins in a language of comedy (minor violence in long-shot, backed with playful banjo) evolves into a language of terror--grim, slo-mo, close-up. Though arguably irresponsible from an historic standpoint, the film's depiction of the duo down a slippery slope from naïveté to a point of no return is masterfully driven home in the way it is told.

To give director Michael Winterbottom the benefit of the doubt in his self-proclaimed noir drama The Killer Inside Me, I could argue that his apparent disregard for filmic language--nay, sometimes counter-intuitive use of it--is a clever device mimicking Deputy Lou Ford's (Casey Affleck) madness. Hence, his early, ungodly brutality is later lightened with his violence turning more comedic (long-shot, cartoon scored) as he gets madder. Is there a lesson learned in such an inverse treatment? Not really. Rather, the lightening of the material takes away from whatever grittiness the first act sowed, and that's saying something considering the writing and delivery of the characters give us nothing to root for and little to interest us. Such hopefulness in Winterbottom's delivery would demand a similar naïveté spoken of earlier.

Gone is the use of wordplay and twist of platitudes in the pulp novel in which Ford's use of cliché counters his dark side. It is replaced with boredom--not a malaise which drives a character like Holden Caulfield, but one felt mostly by the audience. Interesting how a film filled with noirish twists exudes such unaffectedness. And not in a beneficial way.

Despite such groping, The Killer Inside Me does benefit from its proximity to fellow reality-benders Shutter Island and Inception. Certain imagery in the film's climax echoes Shutter Island so completely, we listen closer to think we hear a murmur beneath the vacuous exercise. And as flawed, heavy-handed, and humorless as those two films are, that's really saying something. Here, repeat viewings bear little fruit because the chasm of disbelief is widened by shoddy portrayals (in a key sequence, we see that Ford's foster brother voluntarily [inexplicably?] took the blame for his molestation of a young girl--only they are all about ten years old and we don't know who is who) and poor writing (in the film's climax, any amount of officers both let their only witness walk into her death and fail to smell a house drenched in gasoline).

To claim the film elbows the misogyny of classic noir is giving the filmmakers far too much credit. Jessica Alba reportedly walked out of the film's screening at Sundance, and few could blame her when it has the gall to irresponsibly guffaw over the end credits: "Shame, shame on you. Ran around with other guys, tried to lie when I got wise. Foolish girl, shame on you." To compare the film's treatment of the cloth from which both violence and sex are cut from the male psyche to that in Anton Corbijn's The American is no contest. The latter is not only successful in providing meaningful relationships to explore its theory, it give mature commentary on its male-dominated genre. The former pushes all the buttons and comes off fetishistic for the sake of being masturbatory. No thesis, no money-shot. -- */ four stars

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