Jessica Alba's Face, Killer Inside Me Take Brutal Beating at Sundance Premiere
Post-screening Sundance Q&As are frequently gushy affairs, sometimes to the point of awkwardness. (At last night's The Runaways premiere, a Kristen Stewart fan wept as she laid her true feelings on the line for the actress, as a crowd of 1,270 strangers shifted uncomfortably in their seats.) But last night's The Killer Inside Me conversation veered off-script in a big way. The first question came from a woman in her 60s, who demanded to know how the film made it into the festival at all. She then proceeded to berate Sundance for the decision, her tirade going on for about 20 glorious seconds, during which it elicited some applause and far more jeers from the crowd. She then stormed out of the Eccles Theater. Director Michael Winterbottom, meanwhile, stood nonplussed at the dais. "Any ... other questions?" the moderator asked.
What then, was all the fuss about? Well, let's begin with Jessica Alba's murder, in which she endures the most brutal head trauma since Irreversible.
[WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND]
Killer is a faithful adaptation of pulp crime novelist Jim Thompson's novel from the early '50s. It's a story narrated by Lou Ford, a sociopathic West Texas sheriff's deputy who describes in vivid, stomach-churning detail the brutal murders he commits, usually against the women he's sleeping with. Casey Affleck plays Lou with the gentle, unblinking demeanor of a remorseless killer raised with small-town American values. ("Out here you're a man, a man and a gentleman, or you aren't anything. And God help you if you're not," he explains, in one of many passages lifted directly from the book.) Affleck uses his pretty, porcelain features to his advantage, a mask that can both draw in women and deflect suspicion among the locals.
He's dispatched early on to run a prostitute (Jessica Alba) out of town who's taken up with the son of the local real estate tycoon (Ned Beatty). Before long the two are engaged in a passionate love affair fueled by rough sex. Lou hatches a plan that would get him the $10,000 meant to bribe his lover into hitting the road; unfortunately, it involves a double-murder, one of the victims being her. After making love and discussing their plans to reconvene a few weeks down the line, Lou pulls on a pair of black gloves, then begins to punch Alba in the face, at full force, repeatedly. The camera does not turn away, and as he takes a good dozen shots at her head, her features begin to distort at each impact with his closed fist. As she lies on the floor, unconscious, unrecognizable, and barely breathing, he asks if she can hear him. He tells her he loves her, and that's he's sorry. He then takes several more punches.
Why Alba agreed to take on the part -- or, for that matter, Kate Hudson, who plays Lou's fiancée and receives similar treatment later on in the film -- is a question best answered by Alba herself. Unfortunately the actress walked out at the film's mid-point.
But for whatever pleasures the film takes in lingering on violence perpetrated upon women (the male victims, on the other hand, are all either tidily shot or killed off-screen), the rest of the film coasts along, glossing over major plot points, taking radical shifts in tone (a boppy, lighthearted score accompanies one murder scene), and generally leaving me scratching my head. Everyone in town seems to know Lou was responsible for the most obvious staged-murder scene in history. And they seem to enjoy telling him that they know he did it -- particularly Elias Koteas as a union boss and Simon Baker as a suspicious detective -- and yet no one seem capable of procuring the very available evidence that pins him to the crimes. And why is there a shot of Lou scribbling advanced mathematical equations into a notebook, no mention to be made of it again?
And then there's Bill Pullman, saddled with the most baffling performance of all, who shows up in the final reel spouting nonsense at the top of his lungs before springing Lou from an insane asylum. In the car, he makes some cryptic analogy involving weeds and lawns, which elicits full confession. Then he drops him off at home and drives off.
Asked to elucidate some of the happenings in this muddled and befuddling third act, Winterbottom explained that he was just remaining faithful to the book. The only problem is that this isn't a book. It's a movie. And those tend to work better when they make sense.