Adapted from Jim Thompson’s black-hearted 1952 crime novel, filmmaker Michael Winterbottom’s equally uncompromising and wickedly entertaining The Killer Inside Me has been the subject of controversy for its explicit depictions of violence toward women. Casey Affleck leads a rich ensemble cast as a small-town Texas deputy sheriff, a seemingly chivalrous gentleman who’s revealed to be a degenerate sociopath. I spoke with Affleck by phone about this nasty piece of pulp—and I don’t mean what one victim’s face looks like after being repeatedly punched.
How did you approach this devil of a leading role? Like anything else, whether they’re the protagonist, the antagonist, or an extra. You want to understand what makes them tick, what they want and care about, and what stands in their way. You make it three-dimensional instead of a flat portrait of some murderer we’ve seen a million times. What’s great about the book and script is that you get to understand somebody who seems, on the surface, completely nuts and incapable of empathizing with.
Since the film’s premiere at Sundance, some have criticized the violence for being too extreme or misogynistic. There has to be space for those voices. In the world and what we do, making movies and media, I think they are valid—and, at times, righteous. In this case, they’re barking up the wrong tree. The irresponsible films that contribute to a desensitization of the culture aren’t like this movie. If you’re going to show violence, make it realistic and upsetting. The movies that bother me are the ones in which killing of any kind seems common and OK. People crash into each other, punch each other, stab each other, shoot each other and don’t get hurt, or there’s nothing upsetting about it. It mattered a lot to me that this be a realistic depiction of violence.
Jim Thompson’s work has been adapted for the screen several times. Why do you think it’s so potent? I’ve seen a couple of the movies, and I’ve read this book. Even though it’s within a genre, there are themes and characters that recur throughout his work that make me think it’s something that really matters to him—that he was exploring in an honest and personal way. When people do that, they usually end up striking a chord that’s resonant and perhaps timeless.
Though a vegan like you wouldn’t eatbarbecue, could you ever see yourself settling out there in God’s country? Absolutely! I loved shooting in Oklahoma and the big, flat plains. I don’t know why, but it has a special place in my heart. I have some family down in Georgia and Florida, so I’ve spent a lot of time in the South, and I love it there, too. The people, culture, language, and terrain—everything about it is so varied. I’ve driven across the country maybe 15 times. I love this whole country.
Do you have a beast inside of you? The bad Casey, perhaps? I think everybody has a million shades of gray inside them. That’s in part what this movie is about: all the badness inside the people who seem the most benign and neighborly, and the good that’s inside the people who seem the most malevolent and wicked.
But, specifically, do you have triggers that set you off? Probing journalists. [Laughs.]
‘The Killer Inside Me’ opens June 18, IFC Films, ifcfilms.com
Ongoing through August 20
On weekends around sunset, spread over 13 outdoor locations in four boroughs, Rooftop’s 14th-annual series offers both consistently thoughtful programming and a fully realized summer experience (live pre-show music, filmmaker Q&As, after-parties with free booze). Among this year’s noteworthy New York premieres are Paul Gordon’s charmingly droll and “mostly vegetarian” comedy The Happy Poet (June 25), the lyrical Japanese avant-noise doc We Don’t Care About Music Anyway (July 16), and The Ape (July 23)—Jesper Ganslandt’s disquieting psychological thriller about a peculiar Swedish driving instructor. Rooftop Films, various locations, rooftopfilms.com
BAM’s sophomore celebration of emerging indie filmmakers and repertory treasures kicks off with the New York premiere of Cyrus, the Duplass brothers’ uncomfortably funny new dramedy starring Marisa Tomei and John C. Reilly. On-hand are a weirdly entertaining 3-D nature doc (Cane Toads: The Conquest), an animated rom-com in space (Mars), an inspired guest selection from Summer Hours auteur Olivier Assayas (the director’s cut of Zodiac; Maurice Pialat’s We Won’t Grow Old Together), and a newly restored 1971 Ozploitation classic (Wake in Fright). Brooklyn Academy of Music, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, bam.org
‘I Am Love’
Cinema may only be defined by sights and sounds, but Sicilian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino’s bold, thrilling, and undeniably sensuous melodrama also uncannily invokes the pleasures of smell, taste, and touch. Married to the wealthy Milanese heir-apparent of a textile empire, Russian exile Tilda Swinton (speaking Italian—what can’t she do?) values her dynastic role, yet gives in to the culinary and hedonistic delights of her son’s restaurateur friend. Every-thing dances here: the camera, the colors, Tilda’s eyes, even pollinating bees during a sumptuously shot sex scene. Magnolia Pictures, in limited release, magpictures.com
Confined to their parents’ remote country estate, three Greek teen siblings are given a warped home-schooling: a “telephone” is learned to be a salt shaker, and airplanes are believed to be toys that might fall in the yard. The most original, challenging, and perverse film of the year so far, Giorgos Lanthimos’s artfully rigorous treatise on human conditioning can be viewed as absurdist horror or the cruelest of comedies. With only hints of context, the reasons behind the family’s social experiment are for adventurous filmgoers to discover. Kino International, in limited release, kino.com
New York Asian Film Festival
June 25–July 8
Welcome back the punks, outsiders, and genre crazies of the East! Celebrate Independence Day with John Woo’s uncut, five-hour version of Red Cliff, then take in the sidebar dedicated to a new wave of retro Hong Kong martial-arts flicks (Ip Man 2, Gallants, and Little Big Soldier—the best Jackie Chan film in years). Annyong Yumika peeks inside the Japanese-Korean porno industry, wannabe hip-hoppers get stuck 8000 Miles from nowhere, and beaucoup blood splatters in Mutant Girls Squad. The Film Society of Lincoln Center, West 65th Street and Broadway, filmlinc.com
Invoking The New World, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, and the “Dawn of Man”sequence in 2001, Bronson director Nicolas Winding Refn’s mesmerizing 12th-century odyssey into the heart of darkness stars a mute Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale’s villain) as One Eye, a brooding Norse warrior-slave who slaughters his pagan captors and leads a boatload of Christian Vikings to the Holy Land. The graphic violence is not that of a horned-helmet action flick, but a trippy nightmare of savage poetry burning slow across bleak and otherworldly landscapes. IFC Films, in limited release, ifcfilms.com
July 16–August 5
When asked to submit a Top 10 film poll, French master Robert Bresson once teasingly filled in “City Lights, City Lights, The Gold Rush” and left the rest of his ballot blank. You won’t think he was joking after relishing brand-new 35mm prints of those Charlie Chaplin silent-comedy masterworks and eight more features (plus shorts collections, too). The truly rare dazzler is a week-long run of 1928’s The Circus, an innovative and timelessly hilarious midway romp that earned the Little Tramp an out-of-competition Oscar. Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, filmforum.org
‘Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl’
More than 100 years old and not slowing down yet, Portuguese auteur Manoel de Oliveira presents a gently droll and unpretentiously alluring fable—adapted from an Eça de Queirós short story—concerning a young Lisbon romantic (Ricardo Trêpa) and the image of beauty whose artful framing in a window enraptures him (Catarina Wallenstein). As remembered by the gentleman suitor to a stranger on a train, it’s an elegant and brisk tale of love-versus-infatuation, familial pressures, and wry economic truths. Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, anthologyfilmarchives.com