Friday, August 20, 2010

The Killer (Performance) Inside of Him

The Killer Inside Me [***1/2]

In reality Casey Affleck is probably as nice and charming as the day is long (recent accusations of sexual harassment not withstanding) and one of my favorite performances of his is as the titular, amiable loser Lonesome Jim, but he's more famous for roles like Patrick Kenzie in Gone Baby Gone and Robert Ford, the coward, from The Assassination of Jesse James ad nauseum. In both of those film's Affleck is compelled to draw his gun because no one takes him quite seriously enough. Compared to other cowboys and other tough talking Bostonians he's tall, lanky, polite and slight so it's easy to misjudge him. It's also dangerous. Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me is the first film of his career to effectively exploit that aspect of his screen persona.

Affleck plays Lou Ford, the polite, amiable, and closeted psychopath of a deputy sheriff to a small Texas town. In voiceover, Ford extols the virtues of being well mannered and folksy while he drives to the edge of town to encourage a suspected prostitute (Jessica Alba) to get out of town. The exchange is brief and polite up to the point where the prostitute strikes the sheriff. Repeatedly. He strikes her back, too. Delivering the same kind of "justice" Ned received in Unforgiven but only to the meat of her buttocks. Eventually, this little fracas leads to rough sex and a plot to swindle the dipshit son of the richest man in town out of ten thousand dollars.

Such plotting awakens in Lou the desire to settle old scores and as with all plotting of this nature things go horribly, horribly wrong. The reason film's like this work is not in seeing how it all goes wrong, although that certainly helps, it's in watching the man caught in the eye of the storm fray and fall apart at the seams. Casey Affleck does his fraying and falling apart with a perfect poker face. He listens, he attacks only the weakest people and only at their most vulnerable moments. Because of his position and his trustworthy face he enjoys the benefits of being a silver tongued devil. The viewer only gets to see the madness take root through use of flashback. Lou kills a girl as a teenager and his stepbrother takes the fall, his propensity for tenderizing female backside is given an origin story and his dalliances with the prostitute from the beginning also occupy a place in his mind. The flashbacks pop up a couple of times throughout the film showing that Lou's vices have taken root and festered like a virus. The dormant monster begins to consume him.

There are some other nice touches to Affleck's performance. He's a real charmer, but like I said before he's a good talker. He can make anything that comes out of his mouth sound pretty believable, so naturally he's pretty good with '50s style hard boiled dialogue like this movie has. Then again Affleck is a good everyman type so it stands to reason that he can slide into the role like a chameleon and pull it off. One of the nice little touches Affleck brings to his character is that when he assaults his two female victims he either dons gloves or takes off his dress shirt. It's either vanity regarding his hands and his clothing or it's something that you shed from yourself or burrow into to distance yourself from the crime. It's either smarm or the only sign that Ford is losing it and can't keep a safe distance from his own worst nature.

It must also be said that the entire cast of The Killer Inside Me is game, but the best moments belong to Affleck and Elias Koteas as a suspiciously well informed union man who knows the information he supplied Ford is part of the reason the son of the town's construction magnate is dead. Most everyone in town is smarter than they look, but some are burdened with a gender or an age curse that makes them blind to who Ford really is and what he's capable of, only Koteas' character has the audacity to come at him full throttle time and time again.

I suspect that The Killer Inside Me would be a really good film no matter who was in it, but with Affleck in the lead role it becomes yet another case of the difficulty in imaging that the actor can exist without the character or vice versa. Casey Affleck rises to the occasion and sears himself into our memory yet again.

Note: In regards to Casey Affleck's alleged sexual harassment I say the fact that he asked the plaintiff her age before asking her if she thought it was about time she got pregnant clearly speaks to his concern for her unfulfilled wish of being a mother. Had he simply asked her if she wanted to get pregnant without asking her age then it would be crass and unacceptable.

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