No coun­try for good peo­ple

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images -

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

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