The Pitch: The better Affleck shows off his bad side. His very bad side.
The Review: Michael Winterbottom is a director who seems not only not afraid of, but to positively enjoy, taking on challenges. Not least the first of those challenges are the material he’s chosen to adapt here. Jim Thompson’s 1952 novel would be hardcore in terms of content if published today, described in an anthology at the time as “one of the most blistering and uncompromising crime novels ever written.” In the wrong hands, this material could come across as misogynystic, voyeuristic and just downright unpleasant.
Then, probably feeling that wasn’t enough of a challenge, he’s chosen to cast Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson in the two leading female roles. Neither has the greatest reputation for acting (somewhat unfairly, especially in Hudson’s case, although they’ve both had an uncanny knack for selecting poor material), but here, with a strong script, a confident director and surrounded by a strong supporting cast, especially Ned Beatty and Elias Koteas, they both come off very favourably.
The core of the movie, though, is Casey Affleck, who burns with a quiet intensity but also provides just the right sense of ambiguity within his performance. His narration also gives dimension to the events on screen; the unreliable narrator is a familiar literary device, and the unreliability is shaded in very subtly, possibly almost too subtly for some, but there is no attempt to portray his actions as anything other than horrific and contemptible.
Nonetheless, while not Irreversible difficult, the violence on screen is unremitting and uncomfortable. But there is much to admire here, although I would avoid the use of the word like as there is little to engage sympathy or to mitigate the fixed viewpoint through Ford’s eyes. While unflinching in his actions, Ford is unable to avoid revisiting events, and those reflections add a haunting quality to the portrayals that follow. But what it does offer is enough to warrant a strong interest in what Winterbottom will choose to challenge himself with next.
Why see it at the cinema: The acting, direction and moral themes all deserve a big canvas; just make sure you have a strong stomach and a stronger constitution.