"I know you'll be as gentle and pleasant as you can be."
Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of Jim Thompson's 1952 novel remains a polarizing discussion for critics and viewers alike. Hailed by some as a slow burning noir classic; others have literally walked out of the theatre due to queasiness from the graphic material. The film is narrated by Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), a well-respected deputy sheriff in a small Texas town. He owns a house, and a has a girlfriend--schoolteacher Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson)--with future plans of marriage. He is also a serial killer. Although Ford does his best to deflect suspicion, it is a constant struggle to battle what he calls "his sickness." Early on the audience is shown glimpses of Lou's ever present dark side: putting out a cigar on a homeless man's hand, and a sadistic first encounter with Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba), a local prostitute.
When commissioned to run Joyce out of town, Lou instead begins a two-week tryst filled with punishment and sexual gratification. Blaming local tycoon Chester Conway (Ned Beatty) for his brother's death years ago, Lou sets in motion a plan to exact his revenge; a plan that leaves a path of death which ultimately fuels the need to sate his appetite for murder.
This leads to the most talked about and highly discussed scene from this film, and I imagine from any in recent memory. Before killing Chester Conway's son Elmer, Lou slips on a leather glove and proceeds to mercilessly bludgeon Joyce's face into oblivion. Blow after blow, Lou's fists are relentless; only briefly pausing to speak lovingly, yet coldly to his lover. "Why baby..." she serenely replies behind broken eyes and a disfigured mouth, "I love you..."
"I love you too honey," is his response, which cues his final assault and leaves Joyce's face an unrecognizable, cavernous mess, and her body slumps to the ground. The depiction of violence against women is nothing new in cinema, but the way Winterbottom shoots this scene is so utterly personal and sickening, yet your eyes are transfixed to the screen. For Alba, it was an odd choice of roles; her being one of the romantic genre lately. At the premiere, during the scene of her beating, she reportedly walked out of her seat, presumably not able to stand the sight of her own mutilation. Although not the catalyst, this event nonetheless continues Lou Ford on a downward spiral which leads to increased self-paranoia and the supposition from others in the town about his innocence.
Although the violence is visceral, there is an intriguing narrative evident here that faithfully portrays what Thompson wrote, incredibly almost sixty years ago. The performances across the board are impressive. It's a welcome change for Kate Hudson, who inexplicably has chosen throwaway roles since turning heads in an award winning performance in ALMOST FAMOUS a decade past. Elias Koteas, Simon Baker and Bill Pullman all lend a hand in limited scenes, but the film rightfully belongs to Affleck, whose chilling execution allows THE KILLER INSIDE ME to succeed.