BERLIN: ‘The Killer Inside Me,’ final notes

Posted by · 6:02 pm · February 21st, 2010

Casey Affleck and Kate Hudson in The Killer Inside MeHaving named its prizewinners yesterday, the Berlinale officially wraps today. I meant to file my last post on the festival once I arrived home on Friday night, but assorted tasks and distractions kept it on the back burner. Too many things, too many things, as Amber Waves would say.

My last day in Berlin served up one of the films I’d most been looking forward to, tireless British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom’s Jim Thompson adaptation “The Killer Inside Me.” Winterbottom’s baldly violent noir arrived in town with the embers of its Sundance controversy still glowing, hoping to liven up a staid Competition. Werner Herzog’s jury might not have taken the bait, but many audience members at the press screening I attended did.

“Fuck you!” yelled one German journo, rather lamely, at the screen once Casey Affleck’s Texan sheriff (and moonlighting serial killer) had finished pummelling Jessica Alba’s lovely face to the texture of steak tartare. After that, obediently outraged grumbles greeted assorted scenes of sex and sadism, while a chorus of boos accompanied the end credits.

For all that, the hostility didn’t sound that spontaneous to me, and not only because the audience came forewarned and forearmed. The film — smart, elegantly composed and faintly dour, like much of Winterbottom’s mid-range work — is hardly the unhinged moral transgression some of the Sundance reports would have you believe, while the admittedly unpleasant violence is unlikely to rattle anyone who sat through, say, “Irreversible.”

It’s rare for a comparatively mainstream title to take quite such a graphic approach to female suffering at the hands of men, and Lars von Trier will surely be grateful that the self-appointed misogyny police can now beat down another director’s door for a while. But Winterbottom is also to be commended for mirroring the tonal nastiness of Thompson’s work quite so unflinchingly; as a feat of adaptation, the film is conscientious to a fault.

That it works as much as it does (if not as much as it could) is thanks largely to Affleck’s startling lead turn. Reprising the slithery adaptability of his Oscar-nominated Robert Ford, but with more straight-backed charm, he’s ideally cast here and knows it, wielding his unnervingly milky gaze like a weapon in every scene. Something in Affleck’s easy shuffle between yes-ma’am compliance and leery reticence somehow puts me in mind of the young Henry Fonda; a great American character actor might be in the making here.

If there’s a problem, it’s that we’re too beguiled by the star. With Affleck inviting us so persuasively into his character’s mindset, the film wants for tension with the outside world, and suspense consequently goes walkabout.

The supporting cast fill out their roles respectably, though there’s a hint of dress-up in otherwise fine contributions from Alba and Kate Hudson. The atmospherics are rich and satisfying: Winterbottom and DP Marcel Zyskin wisely resist the temptation to cast the 1950s-set film in a burnished period glow and opt instead for harder, bleaker lighting schemes. (Bonus points, too, for a gorgeous opening credit sequence.) But even these assets point to more of an exercise than a fully-fleshed movie, an accomplished but unfelt feather in the cap of a restless auteur.

Two other films I caught at the tail-end of my Berlin journey sadly don’t merit the discussion their credentials might suggest. “Mammuth,” a gently absurdist French comedy from the directing duo of Benoît Delépine and Gustave de Kervern, is more mainstream and character-oriented than their 2008 effort “Louise-Michel,” but prompts more smiles than genuine laughs.

Gerard Depardieu continues his engaging recent run of rumpled sad-sack characterizations as the title character, a hulking blue-collar worker whose retirement blues lead him on a tour of former places of employment; Yolande Moreau (“Seraphine”) his quietly exasperated wife. The film’s episodic structure, built largely around the charisma of its veteran leading man, recalls rambling American efforts like “About Schmidt” and “Broken Flowers,” but the equivalent sour bite is missing. Amiably shabby in construction, it’s another film ill-served by the expectations of a Competition berth.

Finally, Nicolas Philbert’s documentary “Nenette,” a fly-on-the-wall portrait of the eponymous orangutan at a Paris zoo, had considerable charm, but ultimately appears a trifle next to the director’s “Être et avoir.” Shot from the perspective of zoo visitors behind the glass, absorbing their faceless comments, it’s a clever, slightly disorienting curio that might have played better in the short format originally intended for it.

And thus ended an enormously enjoyable week of festival-going, enhanced by the year-round pleasures of Europe’s coolest city (and a lot of good beer, if I’m being honest). I may have mentioned some wobbles on the programming side of things, but they hardly detract from a supremely well-run and good-natured festival: as one critic said to me, “Berlin is like Cannes without the crazy, and that’s okay.”

My thanks go to the festival staff who made things so much more navigable than they might have been, the passers-by who looked on sympathetically every time I slipped and face-planted on the icy Berlin pavements, and assorted colleagues and acquaintances for their valuable chatter — with an MVP mention for the Telegraph’s Tim Robey. Tschüss, Berlin.

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9 responses so far

  • 1 2-21-2010 at 7:20 pm

    Jim T said...

    I like “Jude” a lot so I was very interested in “The Killer Inside Me”. I’m not vebry confortable with extreme violence but I can stand it if I have a reason. I have seen the trailer and I guess I have an idea of what is involved. I dunno, I’ll wait for more opinions on it. But, Alba? Acting decently? That’s kind of big. :p

  • 2 2-21-2010 at 7:24 pm

    voland said...

    Great write-up Guy. Vielen Dank!

  • 3 2-21-2010 at 10:22 pm

    red_wine said...

    Kudos for another great festival! I’m glad you reported on plenty of other titles since the competition titles, by general consensus as you say, did not measure up this year.

    In typical fashion, my local newspaper ran an article with the heading, ‘Polanski wins best director at Berlin, still in jail’. If his film were to catch on during awards season this year, it would take the melodrama a few notches higher. But the film while well-reviewed will likely be forgotten by the end of the year.

    About Killer Inside Me, I dislike violence for the sake of it. Even IB had some purposeless violent shots, Kill Bill had cartoon violence which was fine. And when I finally saw Antichrist last year, I was not even remotely as appalled as people led me to believe.

  • 4 2-22-2010 at 1:36 am

    Glenn said...

    It seems like they’re going down the “Antichrist” road re “The Killer Inside Me” and trying to milk the notoriety around the violence. I’m not as interested in this film though as it is Michael Winterbottom afterall and I’ve never particularly liked anything he has done. Alba and Hudson aren’t exactly the names I would think to associate with a movie of this kind too. It’s nice to hear that they’re good though.

  • 5 2-22-2010 at 3:45 am

    Chris said...

    Hey Guy, I am German and I’ve been following your Berlin report with high interest. I unfortunately could not be there, but it is always interesting to read some outside response, meaning response from people outside of Germany. And since I visit this site quite regularly it was a perfect match to get this response right here and so nicely done as well. Danke, Guy.

  • 6 2-22-2010 at 7:41 am

    Nick Davis said...

    You really did a superb job with these Berlin reports, Guy – you’re an ideal festival reporter, always giving a great balance between reporting about the films and crystallizing your own editorial responses to them. (I feel like sometimes the thumbnail judgments can be so strong in festival reportage that it’s hard for non-attendees to even know what the writer was responding to, and when they show up in Chicago, I think, “Oh, that’s the film that So & So hated in Toronto,” but that’s it.) And it isn’t everyone who would thank people so sweetly just for not being totally a**holes when they see fall on the ice.

    Moreover, I’ll miss these pieces as a welcome counterpoint to the inevitable protraction of the Oscar season. Somewhere, somehow, I’m sure Christoph Waltz won something today, etc.

  • 7 2-22-2010 at 8:01 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Thanks, everyone, for such sweet words.

    And Nick, you won’t miss reading these Oscar-reporting alternatives half as much as I’ll miss writing them.

  • 8 2-22-2010 at 3:29 pm

    Aleksis said...

    “the self-appointed misogyny police can now beat down another director’s door for a while.”

    A film you like got accused of being misogynistic, and therefore those addressing the important and pervasive issue of violence against women are an irrational mob “banging down doors”.

  • 9 2-23-2010 at 2:08 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    If that’s how you want to see it, then yes. But since I’m clearly a rabid misogynist in your eyes, too, you should probably take what I say with a pinch of salt.