The premise of Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of Jim Thompson's 1952 crime novel could be summed up in a classified ad: Texas cop with pleasant boyish demeanor seeks compliant dames for sadistic sex games culminating in murder. Thompson's fearsome tale is recounted in the first person by a blatantly unreliable narrator. Foisting himself on the world as a gentlemanly, platitude-spouting Jimmy Stewart type, Lou Ford is less a character than an act. The ease with which the killer/cop outwits the other characters is matched only by the apparent rationality with which this self-conscious psychopath explicates his increasingly brutal crimes. Killer isn't even so much a novel, let alone a thriller, as a vacuum that inexorably sucks the reader into a moral black hole. Perhaps this malign fiction could have been filmed in the manner of Isidore Isou's notorious Venom and Eternity—a black screen and an unending rant. Winterbottom's version is Classic Comics. The characters are stiffly drawn, the action is fastidiously staged, the production design is self-consciously retro. No shortage of cheap thrills, though: Lou (Casey Affleck) smiles affably as he stubs out his cigarette in a derelict's outstretched palm or sets about beating his adoring punching bags—a hot little hooker (Jessica Alba) and a hard-faced school teacher (Kate Hudson)—until they're black and blue or (much, much) worse. Winterbottom's greatest asset is Affleck, convincing enough to keep Killer from being just a steamy, stylish, punishing bloodbath.
Alba becomes fodder for a killer.
Runs at Varsity, Fri., July 2–Thurs., July 8. Rated R. 109 minutes.