Sadism and masochism beneath a veneer of revenge. Lou Ford is a mild-mannered sheriff's deputy in a Texas oil town in the mid 1950's. His boss sends him to roust a prostitute living in a rural house. She slaps him; he hits her, then, after daily sex for the next few weeks, he decides it's love. She's devoted to him and becomes his pawn in a revenge plot she thinks is to shakedown the son of Chester Conway, the town's wealthy king of construction. Lou has a different plan, and bodies pile up as murder leads to murder. The district attorney suspects Lou, and Conway may have an inkling, but Lou stays cool. Is love, or at least peace, in the cards? Written by
The piece of music that Lou (Casey Affleck) plays on his piano is the 25th variation of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations. It was regarded by musicians, such as Glenn Gould and Wanda Landowska, as one of the most significant pieces of music ever written, even within the context of the entire set of variations, which is generally held to be one of Bach's greatest masterpieces. Gould's 1955 recording of this variation was included in the soundtrack to Slaughterhouse-Five (1972), during scenes portraying the firestorm that destroyed Dresden. See more »
When Lou Ford chases the extortionist down the street, the extortionist runs past a modern Peterbilt truck. See more »
Sheriff Bob Maples:
Name of Joyce Lakeland. Lives about four or five miles out on Derrick Road past the old Branch place.
Oh, I know the old Branch place. She a hustling lady, Bob?
Sheriff Bob Maples:
Well, I guess so, but she's - she's been pretty decent about it.
See more »
If you've followed the history of this film, then you know it was twenty years in the making. The producers who optioned the rights were on a veritable quest. At one point, Val Kilmer was slated to act, Sean Penn, to direct.
Eventually, many Thompson fans consigned the project to limbo, not knowing how passionate the parties involved actually were. (Chris Hanley is the same producer who delivered This World, Then the Fireworks -- one of the most faithful and unapologetic Thompson adaptations.) Having seen Winterbottom's final cut, I'm glad the producers took their time. The screenplay writer and director have made a film so uncompromisingly faithful to Thompson's novel that a few audience members will usually leave the theater during the most graphic scenes.
Make no mistake: This movie is more grisly than anything by Sam Peckinpah, and the subject is as misogynistic as that of Straw Dogs (though it's the character, not the director, who hates women in this case). If you're a person who can't watch or sanction scenes in which women are brutalized, then this is a film to avoid.
If not, then you're ready to see the book represented in its pulpy essence, with excesses and virtues on display.
Psychopathic sheriff Lou Ford is equal parts self-destructive sadist, con man and facade. For him, excessive politeness and long-windedness are forms of veiled hostility. Brutal sarcasm is delivered in a good-natured everyman way. Everything Ford says is double entendre, the punchline, only apparent to him. He ushers people to their doom in the same tone he might use to offer them a drink.
Other film adaptations, from Tavernier's Coup de Torchon to the 70s version of Killer, have missed Ford's quintessentially Southern hostility. Those French and So Cal readings failed to recognize the specific way in which Thompson, himself a Texan, turns the naive good-natured American stereotype on its head. Winterbottom understands it and shows it, as does his lead.
The actor who plays Ford is famous but not yet so ubiquitous that his celebrity obscures the power of Ford's character. Since character carries an unusual amount of weight in Thompson stories, Casey Afflick was a perfect choice: Likable and chameleonic, with an admirable range and a delivery so spent and inviting it will remind you of Bill Clinton's. You don't just enjoy this portrayal of Ford because he's an interesting villain. You actually sympathize with the character's attempts to regain self-control.
When I read a reviewer's description of Ford listening to classical music and reading Freud, I groaned. I thought he'd been reduced to another Hannibal Lecter. The psychopath who resembles a James Bond nemesis and reveals his intelligence by listening to classical music and quoting Nietzsche is an '80s cliché.
Not to worry: Affleck's Ford never talks about culture and he never air-conducts.
From the period-specific tone to the apparent humility and social restraint of the killer -- which made readers sympathize with him even after he committed acts that seemed designed to justify the death penalty -- this film is to Thompson what Wynton Marsalis is to Miles Davis: Reverent to the point of sacrificing personality, but giving back everything in terms of performance, style and formal correctness. The attention to form was particularly appreciated: Having read the book twice, I knew what was coming and still enjoyed the ending.
97 of 128 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?