This Michael Winterbottom film had a lot of promise, but received a lukewarm initial response. Premiering in Australia at the Sydney Film Festival (where I managed to see a screening), this brutal thriller certainly roused horrified emotions from its audience. Uncompromisingly violent and gratuitous, it is a startling representation of a psychotic Deputy Sheriff (Casey Affleck) who ventures into a killing spree in an attempt to cover his tracks after initially murdering a local construction executive he believes was responsible for his brothers death. He also brutally bashes Joyce (Jessica Alba), a local prostitute he had become intimate with and then double crosses. Possessing a sickness since he was young, Lou Ford once again becomes a threat to the community, succumbing to empowering urges to indulge in a sickening murder spree. Lou had once been responsible for the sexual abuse of a young girl, only evading arrest when his brother took the blame. When his brother is killed at a construction site years after his release, Lou is set for revenge believing he was murdered. It is when he begins a sadomasochistic relationship with Joyce that his urges are rekindled. He blackmails the executive, with the assistance of Joyce, and then savagely bashes her and shoots the man, making it appear to be a lovers quarrel. He creates an alibi, and frames others to take the fall for his actions, until he becomes increasingly desperate and must sacrifice his steady girlfriend, Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson) in his ploy.
Casey Affleck, who received an Academy Award nomination for his work in The Assassination of Jesse James, always gives a fine performance, and it is an appropriately savage portrayal. However, his support from both Alba and Hudson was not as strong. I thought the women really struggled, but this is partly because of my general qualms against Hudson. The pacing was achingly slow, only broken by the moments of extreme violence. The recycling of memories of his intimate moments with Alba’s character really got tiring to the point of being boring and did nothing other than to offer us a potential insight to feelings of guilt and regret, despite his inhumane actions. These flashbacks actually accounted for a large part of the running time, and I thought failed to offer anything at all.
I was under the impression that this would be a film about a serial killer, who abused his level of power (as a sheriff) to kill a series of innocent people within his town. Essentially, this is what the film comprises of, but it introduces a childhood experience to explain his urges and uses blackmail to explain his motive. After the initial killing, the rest of his behavior is just to cover his tracks, and he becomes less a sociopath, then a man desperate to evade arrest. But I also found his defense to be quite thin, and I found it difficult to believe that it took his colleagues as long as it did to prove that he was responsible. The support roles from Elias Koteas, and Simon Baker, were fairly average also. While their performances weren’t bad, the screenplay didn’t allow them much to work with. I also thought that many of the intricacies I assume to be present in the novel weren’t explained during the film, leaving the audience questioning many of the plot arcs. This didn't have the effect of forcing the viewer to deduce their own opinion, but left me puzzled and genuinely confused. Michael Winterbottom is not a novice when it comes to confronting cinema, but this was also unnecessarily gratuitous. I went in with quite high expectations and the early scenes were promising, but overall I felt like it fell very short of the mark.
My Rating: 3 Stars