Usually if the basic premise of a film cannot be believed, the rest of it completely falls apart. Peacock (2010) is a rare exception for me. The setting, the tone, the cinematography, the acting, and even most of the story comes together nicely to make an entertaining and suspenseful film that is ultimately very satisfying in a Hitchcock meets Malick sort of way.
Peacock was directed by Michael Lander, written by Lander along with Ryan Roy and features a wonderful cast including Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page and Susan Sarandon. It's also worth noting that it was the last film edited by Sally Menke, a Quentin Tarantino regular. She died five months after the release. The editing, of course, is great, but this is nothing like a Tarantino movie.
I mentioned both Terrence Malick and Alfred Hitchcock as comparisons for the direction of this film. The establishing shots at the beginning let us know that this film takes place in a small town in the middle of nowhere. There are large fields of tall grass blown by the breeze, which look right out of Days of Heaven or a Kurosawa film. The tone of the film is also very Malickian. Everything is quiet on the surface. If you have ever been to a small town, it really does feel like a Terrence Malick film. Below the surface is more of a David Lynch small town...but really more Hitchcock. Multiple personalities, secrets, double lives, dark histories,...I've probably said too much already. One of the reasons why I think I enjoyed this film so much was because I didn't know anything about it before seeing it. I didn't even know who was in it except for Susan Sarandon. And honestly, I would see anything with her, even Stepmom (1998) which I did see, in the theater, by myself.
For the sake of writing a thorough and sufficient review, I will now attempt to describe the plot, but not too much. John Skillpa (Cillian Murphy) lives in the small town of Peacock, Nebraska. I checked google maps, there is no Peacock, Nebraska. On the other hand there is a Lumberton, North Carolina, but that is neither here nor there. Skillpa works for a bank. He's very quiet and keeps to himself. If he lived in a large city, we would probably expect him to be a serial killer. We find out early just to what extent his past has shaped who he has become, but it's not a serial killer. It's less obvious than that. John goes through his daily routine with great precision. Everything goes exactly as planned and if he's surprised by the slightest deviation, he becomes sweaty and nervous and looks at the floor a lot.
Do you think a character in a film like this is going to just continue living a life that is easy and predictable- the way he likes it? Not a chance. There are many other characters who have something to say about it. Not that they know what's up, or even suspect anything out of the ordinary. It's just that small town residents have a way of making everybody else's business their own. To make matters worse, the caboose of a freight train has derailed and ends up in John Skillpa's back yard. Suddenly he is the town celebrity and this means a lot of sweating and looking at the floor.
Ellen Page plays a young mother who is an inhabitant of Peacock. She really stands out because she plays an adult, and a very convincing one. There are no traces of Juno in this role. Even when I was watching Inception (2010) I couldn't stop thinking about the Juno character. She really shows what she's capable of here and it's wonderful stuff. A small role worth noting is Keith Carradine as Mayor Ray Crill. He is always fun to watch, and since his role on Dexter, his acting has been taken to a whole different level in my eyes. Cillian Murphy has the biggest task in this film and he pulls it off effortlessly.
If you have the patience to watch this tale slowly unfold while you take in the scenery along with that feeling of dread, then this is your movie.