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Monday, July 26, 2010

CRIME DOESN’T PAY: Reviews of The Killer Inside Me and Dossier K

I should probably be ashamed of myself, but I loved The Killer Inside Me, a story about Lou Ford, a deputy sheriff from a small Texas town who beats up on women in a vicious and cruel manner (and the women still loving him up until the very last blow), using them to get revenge on someone who arranged for his brother to be killed because the brother was accused of being a pedophile (something the deputy knows to be true because he caught his brother at it when they were young; but still, a brother is a brother, I guess). It’s vile, it’s repulsive, it’s sick. Hey, what’s not to love? In my defense, Jerry, my best friend from Chicago, also loved it, so that somewhat eases my conscious. The movie is adapted from a novel by the pulp novelist Jim Thompson, and directed by Michael Winterbottom with a screenplay by John Curan (IMDB also lists Winterbottom as writer, though I’m not sure what the difference is between that and screenwriter). It stars Casey Affleck as Ford. Affleck is having quite the career lately between this and Gone, Baby, Gone and that movie about Jesse James with a title too long for me to print here. Affleck has always had that odd voice, a semi-falsetto that feels like it’s rusted over. It should have gotten in the way of his career. But somehow, it’s made him who he is, a character actor who can play leads. In The Killer Inside Me, Affleck’s high pitched tones add to his sociopathology. Of course, his soulless blue eyes don’t hurt. And that way of telling the women he is beating up that he does love them and somehow manages to convince us in the audience that he really does (I told you, the whole thing is vile, it’s repulsive, it’s sick—what’s not to love). The story takes place in a small Texas town that has been made slightly larger by the oil boom (the period is the 1950’s). Winterbottom and his designers have created an amazing feeling for time and place. The Texas heat; the paved streets that feel dusty; the Texas heat; the period cars and clothes; the Texas heat. It all feels spot on. Ford himself lives in one of those gracefully sprawling houses with a porch that winds its way around much of the building, something classically Texan and small townish. He spends his off time, the time he’s not having S&M sex with women, reading weighty tomes and listening to opera, which throws one off until you remember his father was the beloved town doctor and probably had a cultural itch he passed on to his son. The plot is one of those classically film noir ones in which just about everybody is corrupt in some way and immorality pours out of their pores with the sweat. I’m not convinced it really holds together plotwise; I didn’t really buy it lock, stock and barrel (exactly how Ford got away with hanging a prisoner is not convincing, for example), but you don’t care. The film has generated some controversy, some calling it misogynistic in its depiction of violence toward women. I’m not sure I totally agree, mainly because you are supposed to be horrified by what Ford does to the two women he loves. What does seem misogynistic to me is that in a small Texas town, Ford finds not one, but two women who revel in S&M sex and in being mistreated. That’s a sort of detail that usually says more about the author/director than about the characters involved. I’m not sure what it says about me in liking the movie so much. But I did. It’s one of the best films of the year so far.


Dossier K is a Belgium action film that revolves around two detective partners, the more straight laced Eric Vincke (played by Koen De Bouw) and the scruffy Freddy Verstuyft (Werner De Smedt). It’s a sequel (or another entry in a franchise depending on how Hollywood you want to get about it) to Memories of a Killer, another book in a series of novels by Jef Geeraerts; but as you can tell from the description above, it’s pretty much in the mold of most television series about people who solve crimes. The movie has some interesting subject matter, the rise of immigrant Albanians in organized crime and the idea of honor they have brought with them from the old country, an idea that has been codified into a series of books (so many that it gets a laugh and one does wonder how anybody can remember it all). However, Vincke’s main problem isn’t with the Albanians. From the way the screenplay (by Carl Joos and Erik Van Looy; direction by Jan Verheyen) is written, that’s nothing compared with the problems he has with the head of the city’s organized crime unit, one Major De Keyser, who is about to bring down a major crime family and doesn’t want Vincke to interfere. The indication is that Vincke is supposed to be the good guy, the moral cop, the one we’re supposed to cheer on. But his interactions with the De Keyser never really seem to be about the best way to fight crime; their conflicts are more on the level of a pissing contest or two schoolyard bullies trying to prove that each has the bigger dick. De Keyser heads a major bust that brings down the head of a major family and most of his lieutenants, but Vincke can’t bring himself to allow that De Keyser did something pretty amazing. No, Vincke ends up blaming De Keyser for the death of one of Vincke’s team (a woman Vincke was interested in romantically, though this subplot felt a bit squeezed in and never caught root emotionally) when De Keyser had absolutely nothing to do with it (it was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, something that no one can really do anything about). When Vincke accuses his boss of doing bad by playing two crime families against the other, we’re supposed to react in horror because people who worked for the families got caught in the cross fire. I thought it was a pretty good stratagem myself. Maybe if Vincke had an alternative method for cracking down on crime, that might lend his holier than thou attitude some credence; but while De Keyser stops a major cartel, Vincke has trouble solving one crime. Because of this, the most interesting aspect of the story revolves around Nazim, a young man who comes to Antwerp to revenge the death of his father, a police informant who was killed after De Keyser no longer had any use for him. While Vinke’s journey is a rather routine one we can see on just about any TV police procedural, Nazim’s journey is the more riveting one of someone who realizes that a person he revered and who was supposed to be playing by the code of honor Nazim has been taught to play by, has betrayed everything Nazim and his people stand for. This leads to an engrossing performance by the corpulent R. Kan Albay playing a character who oozes corruption. When Nazim takes him down, the scene recalls the end of the Orson Welles’ character in Touch of Evil. While most of the movie seems to be about children arguing in a sandbox, this half of the movie is what gives the movie any weight it has.

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