This week in movies you missed: a mostly faithful version of Jim Thompson's pulp classic about a sociopath hiding in plain sight.
What You Missed
Everybody in the Texas town of Central City likes Lou Ford (Casey Affleck). He's such a nice, clean-cut, soft-spoken young man — a sheriff's deputy who doesn't even carry a gun. Sure, he's not the sharpest tool in the shed, and his corny remarks get on your nerves, but he's a good guy.
They don't know that Lou Ford has a pretty kinky thing going on with the prostitute (Jessica Alba) who lives on the edge of town. They don't know his slowness is an act. They don't see him letting off steam by putting out his cigar in a bum's palm.
They don't know that Lou Ford has a plan to avenge himself on an old enemy (Ned Beatty) that happens to entail a vicious, cold-blooded double murder. And then another murder, and another.
Why You Missed It
British director Michael Winterbottom (The Trip, A Mighty Heart) helmed this 2010 adaptation, which made it to 19 U.S. theaters. (Find it on Netflix Instant, DVD, etc.)
Probable reason for the small release: The protagonist is an evil bastard. Unlike the stylized violence in American Psycho, the murders in this film are horrific, plain and simple.
Should You Keep Missing It?
Well, first of all, you should read Jim Thompson. If you like your noir extra noir, with a big serving of unhinged narrators, he is the man.
I watched The Killer Inside Me immediately after finishing the 1952 novel. It's generally considered Thompson's best, with good reason. First, it's surprisingly modern in its depiction of Lou's demented psyche. Second, his terse, sardonic narrative is a thing of beauty. Third, certain scenes are just begging to be put on film.
So I don't know why Winterbottom chose to skip right over the climax of one of those scenes. Perhaps he thought it would be too crass, too over the top, Tarantino-esque. (Thompson was surely an influence on Tarantino and the Coens.)
The rest of the film sticks very close to the plot of the book, even when doing so is bound to confuse the viewer. (It's a plot that requires us to piece a puzzle together.) As an adaptation, it's not bad. Yet I think someone who hasn't read the book is unlikely to gather from the film why it's considered a classic.
The good: Casey Affleck is creepy. Like, super-creepy. Forget his brother Ben, who doesn't have a sinister bone in his body. This performance makes us understand exactly why people underestimate Lou and why they shouldn't.
The bad: For some reason, the script omits a key to understanding Lou's character. In voiceover, he tells us that he must kill the prostitute, even though he loves her. But he doesn't explain why.
In the book, Lou blames the prostitute and other women for arousing his sadistic sexual desires (which he calls "the sickness"). Thompson makes it clear that his hatred and terror of his own impulses (which spring from childhood abuse) are the deeper motives for everything he does.
That level of insight gets lost in the movie, so we don't understand why the murders are so gratuitously violent. The story may come off as misogynist, when it's really a cold dissection of misogyny by a misanthropist.
The worse: Jessica Alba as a jaded, gun-toting "hustlin' lady." She does her best, but dewy-faced starlets belong nowhere near the world of Thompson.
The surprisingly not bad: Kate Hudson as Lou's schoolteacher sweetheart, who (of course) isn't as innocent as she seems. It sounds like disaster casting, but she absorbs the gritty atmosphere and leaves her rom-com perkiness behind.
Verdict: I so wish the Coens had done this adaptation. They might have made a classic. But, if you can stomach the book's darkness, Winterbottom's version is worth checking out.
In Theaters This Week
A big hunka nothing ... unless you want to see a belated three-quel in the Riddick series (remember Vin Diesel's real breakthrough role?).
Or unless you feel like taking a jaunt to the Savoy — there you could see In a World..., which looks pretty fun.
On Video This Week
Now You See Me, From Up on Poppy Hill, Stories We Tell and Sharknado!