Casey Affleck has sex with Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson. Not together. This isn’t that kind of movie. It’s far more disturbing, since Affleck spanks, bites, beats and punches each lady senseless with his gloved fists. They seem to love the guy anyway. “Don’t worry, sweetheart,” he murmurs, “it’ll be over soon.” For this, the film’s British director, Michael Winterbottom has been labeled a piece of woman-hating pervert scum. Such criticisms, of course, ignore the fact that Winterbottom isn’t getting his rocks off, but rather directing the film version of an acclaimed piece of 1952 pulp fiction that helped make the reputation of novelist Jim Thompson. No less a film icon than Stanley Kubrick called the novel “probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered.
That mind is also the subject of Winterbottom’s dazzling, depraved film noir. If you can’t take the heat, stay out of Winterbottom’s scalding kitchen. Affleck gives a mesmeric, implosively powerful performance as Lou Ford, a Texas deputy sheriff so low-key and soft-spoken no one would suspect the evil thoughts dancing in his head. No one except Joyce (Alba), the hooker who caters to his needs, and Amy (Hudson), the girl he wants to marry. Objections might be raised about having two female characters who seem to welcome abuse at the hands of a man. This discounts the fact that on page and screen we are seeing things through the eyes of a madman. John Curran’s script can be faulted for leaning too heavily on the childhood roots of Lou’s psychosis, but the movie does Thompson proud. It’s a scorcher.