Back in 2000, Mary Harron took on an adaptation that many said could never happen – Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. While the project had been in development for a number of years before Harron came on as a director, anyone who has ever even flipped through the book’s pages could see why the content was viewed as unfilmable. The acts committed by the main character, Patrick Bateman, are so gruesome and horrifying that even Ted Bundy would have said some passages went too far. Rather than trying to direct the story straight from the page, however, Harron, along with fellow screenwriter Guinevere Turner, instead muted the incredible violence (to an extent) and magnified the book’s subtext, a parody of the yuppie culture in the 1980s. While the film was unsuccessful upon release, it has garnered a huge following on DVD and has attained that lofty title of “cult classic.”
This was not the path chosen by Michael Winterbottom while directing his adaptation of Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, and what has resulted is a hateful disgusting mess that probably should never have been made.
In the film, Casey Affleck stars as Lou Ford, the deputy sheriff of a small town in Texas. Upon learning of a prostitute (Jessica Alba) doing business within the town limits, Ford is sent to drive her away. Instead, he winds up having a passionate affair with her, despite the fact that he is in a committed relationship with his longtime sweetheart, Amy (Kate Hudson), But while Ford may appear to be a peaceful man – he doesn’t even carry a gun while on duty – there is a violent monster lurking deep within him that he not only can’t control, but has no interest in controlling. After this monster rears its ugly head, Ford soon finds himself as the key suspect in an investigation and is forced to find a way to claw his way out of it.
What is most unsettling about Winterbottom’s film is not its cold and unflinching way of filming the more violent scenes, but, instead, the sickening amount of misogyny. The key victims of Ford’s demons are women, but while this is hardly uncommon for cinematic serial killers, what is truly disgusting is that every female character loves to be abused and beaten, on more than one occasion leading them to orgasm. Even when Ford goes beyond whipping and choking these women during sex and can’t control his violent impulses, they make no effort to defend themselves from his attacks, instead just looking confused and bewildered. As one female character is literally being punched to death, she simply stares at Ford with a face that says, “Why is this man, that I love so dearly and unconditionally, beating me to a bloody pulp?” The female characters in this film are not women; they are merely the subjects of a two-hour sadomasochist fantasy.
Even simply looking at the story as a narrative the whole film is a mess. While we’re given inklings into what happened to Ford as a child to make him the way he is, the story never fully comes out. Every 20 minutes or so, Elias Koteas, playing a local union leader, shows up to make vague accusations about what Ford is up to and then disappears. Even Ford’s plans to cover-up his murders make no sense and his fellow police officers have enough to put him in cuffs after the first half hour.
As truly despicable and hateful as the film is, it must be said that Affleck puts on a great performance. Looking in to his character’s eyes, there is nothing behind them, the mark of a true psychopath, and Casey envelopes it. He’s helped by the audience’s preconception of the kind of actor that he is. Be it as the private detective in Gone Baby Gone or one half of the constantly bickering Malloy brothers from Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 films, Affleck generally ranges from affable to hero, with only the occasional exception. Here he pulls a complete 180 as Lou Ford and it will likely affect everyone’s view of him as an actor going forward.
Jim Thompson’s book has been around for 58 years and even though it was adapted back in 1976 with Stacey Keach in the lead role, it has always been viewed by many to be a story too graphic to be filmed. It should have stayed that way. Other than Affleck’s performance, this film doesn’t have a redeemable quality in its 109 minutes.
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