No country for good people
Robert B. Ker I For The New Mexican
The Killer Inside Me, Western noir, rated R, The Screen, 3.5 chiles “I was sheriff of this county when I was 25 years old. Hard to believe. My grandfather was a lawman; father too. Me and him was sheriffs at the same time; him up in Plano and me out here. I think he’s pretty proud of that. I know I was. Some of the oldtime sheriffs never even wore a gun. A lotta folks find that hard to believe. … I always liked to hear about the old-timers. Never missed a chance to do so. You can’t help but compare yourself against the old-timers. Can’t help but wonder how they’d have operated these times.”
That’s an excerpt from a voice-over monologue spoken by Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) in No Country for Old Men. The passage is meant to unveil bits of his character while underlining the story’s themes, but it’s also a whole lot of poppycock. This was never any country for old men. The sepia-toned, innocent yesteryear never happened, and I suspect Bell’s creator, Cormac McCarthy, knows this. After all, he also wrote Blood Meridian, a Western in which he dug up the sands of the Southwest and showed us how crimson-soaked they are just under the surface.
Nonetheless, there is a postwar period in America’s history that we look back on with a certain fondness, back when neighbors were supposedly neighborly and folks were supposedly decent. Director Michael Winterbottom’s latest picture, The Killer Inside Me, travels in the same small-town noir that Ed Tom Bell found himself
mired in. Like it’s handsomely shot in New Mexico (along with Oklahoma). The story is staged back in that pastoral yesteryear, when Bell’s father didn’t need a gun. As the film opens, we follow deputy sheriff Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) out on assignment to visit Joyce Lakeland ( Jessica Alba) in the country. On the way, he has a voiceover monologue that seems to mirror Bell’s: “The sheriff’s office handles the policing for both the city and the county. We do a pretty good job of it to our own way of thinking. We’re kind of old-fashioned. Out here you say, ‘ Yes ma’am’ and ‘ No ma’am’ to anything with a skirt on. Out here, if you catch a man with his pants down, you apologize — even if you have to arrest him afterwards. Out here you’re a man and a gentleman or you aren’t anything at all. And God help you if you’re not.”
Ford is not. Affleck, so brilliantly cast, has innocent, childlike features. His starched shirts and giant cowboy hats look odd and angular on his wiry frame — like David Byrne in
as if Ford is a child playing dress up. And in many ways, that about sums up the character. As the visit with Joyce takes unexpected turns and the violence in the film sparks up and spreads like brush fire, we realize this is someone who acts without fear of repercussions, because he doesn’t even seem to have a basic understanding that his actions have them. This is an antihero who will extinguish his cigar on the hand of a drunk asking for spare change. Based on a novel by Jim Thompson,
is an exercise in film noir with a dash of Western tossed in. The plot is there if you want it, but if you don’t, you’re not missing too much. If you’ve seen your share of noir, then you know the story: man gets greedy, finds himself in over his head, and makes matters worse the more he tries to get out. What sets this film apart is that Winterbottom uses his vacuous protagonist to rend the genre bare and expose the ugliness of the violence, nihilism, and misogyny within. “The trouble with growing up in a small town is everyone thinks they know who you are,” Ford says, but he doesn’t much
No Country, know, either. He doesn’t engage in self-examination and doesn’t invite the audience to peel back the layers of his psyche. Even his flashback scenes reveal nothing. Sometimes a monster is a monster.
Affleck has elevated himself in the ranks of actors to the point where it’s difficult to imagine anyone else brave enough — or maybe even good enough — to tackle this part. With this film, and his 2007 efforts in and
Gone Baby Gone The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,
he’s put together as impressive a three-film stretch as any actor could ask for. In playing another character named Ford here, he returns to the combination of innocence and malice that made his Robert Ford so memorable three years ago. Clearly this is an actor who unflinchingly travels to dark places.
He has an apt partner in Winterbottom, a director who tackles a new genre with every film and prods the conventions of each. Here, Winterbottom and cinematographer Marcel Zyskind play on our nostalgic feelings for the era with a flat, postcard look and a vibrant, dreamlike color palette. They use this visual style to probe the material in a way that often reminded me of the objective, poetic eye of Truman Capote’s mixed with the imagery of Winterbottom uses a delightfully eerie Western-swing soundtrack to make the film seem like an artifact of the old, weird America.
is film noir for those who like their noir black, without a trace of cream or sugar. There are two scenes of violence against women so relentless and terrifying that I had to look away — and I consider myself far from a softie when it comes to celluloid shocks. Then again, this is not your usual, more casual, violence against women that we’re accustomed to in our entertainment and that many of us long ago grew desensitized to. These scenes feel authentic, if excessive, and some audiences have been greatly upset by them. They’re also part of a film that is masterfully done. If you can handle this picture, you won’t soon forget it.
Heading down the sociopath: Kate Hudson and Casey Affleck