Film review – Little Fockers (2010)

22 December 2010
Little Fockers: Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) and Greg Focker (Ben Stiller)

Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) and Greg Focker (Ben Stiller)

The original Meet The Parents (2000) was a fun comedy about the culture clash between Jewish nurse Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) and his conservative, WASP, ex-CIA future father-in-law Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro). The first sequel Meet The Fockers (2004) was more of the same but with the inclusion of Greg’s freethinking parents Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) and Rozalin (Barbra Streisand) to liven things up. This third film, about the preparation for the 5th birthday party of the Focker children, is more of the same again but without any new elements and diluted to the point that it is difficult to believe that any of these films were ever that funny to begin with.

Rather than focus on Greg’s new role as a father, Little Fockers is once again about his conflict with Jack and all the mistrust, deception and spying that entails. As in the previous films there is the familiar pattern of a scenario, such as a family dinner, going seemingly well but then the resulting disaster and embarrassment that follows is always served up as the dénouement to each scenario. Except this time the gags are less embarrassingly and awkwardly funny but simply cringe worthy. Many of the jokes about parents talking frankly about sex with their children are recycled from Meet The Fockers and the long running series joke about family friend Kevin Rawley (Owen Wilson) still being obsessed with Greg’s wife Pam (Teri Polo) is stretched to breaking point. Otherwise, the humour consists of mistaken cases of infidelity, vomiting, anal examinations, erection medication and even a we’re-not-gay-not-that-there’s-anything-wrong-with-that scene.

Little Fockers: Andi Garcia (Jessica Alba)

Andi Garcia (Jessica Alba)

Hoffman and Streisand disappointingly barely feature in Little Fockers and they aren’t the only actors who are wasted. Newcomers to the ensemble include Laura Dern who gets a few good moments but is underused and Jessica Alba, who is given plenty of screen time but only gets to deliver a one-note performance. Worst of all is casting Harvey Keitel, who’s previously appeared on screen opposite De Niro so memorably in films such as Mean Streets, and giving him a total of two completely disposable scenes. It’s as if the filmmakers just hoped that having a great cast would somehow take this now very tired franchise over the line but it hasn’t. Little Fockers has well and truly milked what little life was left in the series and while what is left produces the occasional giggle it is otherwise more of an endurance test than the light-hearted comedy that it wants to be.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – The Killer Inside Me (2010)

24 August 2010
The Killer Inside Me: Lou Ford (Casey Affleck)

Lou Ford (Casey Affleck)

Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is a Texas deputy sheriff in a small country town in the 1950s. On the surface Lou seems like a pillar of virtue. He describes himself as ‘a man and a gentleman’, he doesn’t like carrying a gun and he loves his schoolteacher girlfriend Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson). However, Lou is also having an intense sadomasochistic sexual relationship with prostitute Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba) and has Oedipal issues that are more extreme than usual, even for a film noir protagonist. He is also a delusional psychopath who kills people for reasons that he largely has to invent for himself after the event.

Adapted from the novel by Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me is the latest film by the highly talented and prolific English director Michael Winterbottom (Genova, A Mighty Heart). It is best described as a ‘country noir,’ resembling films like Lone Star and especially No Country For Old Men for its brutal existentialism. It is also a deeply psychological film that takes the audience further and further into Lou’s mind so that the film ends in a way where we are not too sure what is real anymore and what is part of Lou’s deranged perception of reality. In this way The Killer Inside Me also evokes Orson Welles’s The Lady From Shanghai and a very powerful visual motif from the film’s conclusion is also highly suggestive of Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly and David Lynch’s Lost Highway.

The Killer Inside Me: Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba)

Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba)

The scenes depicting extreme violence against women have been, and will most likely continue to be, the main focal point for many people. This is a pity as there is a lot more to The Killer Inside Me. However the scenes do contain an undeniable power that is impossible not to address, shot as they are in a sickening, graphic, realistic and intimate way. The combination of make-up, cinematography and gut churning sound effects is designed to make the audience feel complete horror and disgust. Casey Affleck’s performance adds to the impact as he is so chillingly calm, restrained and even slightly playful.

These scenes are not voyeuristic exercises in cruelty as they function instead as confronting representations of the true impact of violence, especially when fuelled by the type of extreme paranoid misogyny that possesses Affleck’s character. Post Silence of the Lambs, cinematic serial killers and mass murderers have tended to become transgressive anti-heroes. By making the violence in The Killer Inside Me so revolting and unpalatable, Winterbottom confronts us with our own tendency to become complicit with onscreen violence, in a way that is not too dissimilar to Gaspar Noé Irréversible and both versions of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games.

The Killer Inside Me: Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) and Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson)

Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) and Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson)

The Killer Inside Me is going to attract plenty of detractors not only for its graphic content but also for its pace and bizarre ending. However, it is a slow, atmospheric and simmering film where the tension is maintained effectively through a dread for what may happen next. This is compelling and challenging cinema, punctuated with genuinely shocking moments, by a director and a cast of actors who are right at the top of their game. The content and the unconventional form that this film eventually takes does not make it easy viewing but Winterbottom is a director worth placing your trust in and viewers who are ready to go with him will be immensely rewarded.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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