Serial killer Jack, known to the press and police as Mr. Sophisticated, is trying to turn murder into a fine art. He narrates and discusses five of his attempts, chosen by random, to the unseen Verge in an attempt to explain his actions.
The central premise is solid, Jack is trying to turn serial killing into a literal art form and he goes about it with a workmanlike sensibility. The killings are committed in a cold and calculating manner with little to no emotion. They are also shot in the same way and certainly not for the squeamish. This works and it doesn't - it does help us get a sense of what it is like for Jack to kill as he is so removed from emotions or any empathy for his victims. Unfortunately, this makes it feel more exploitative than it needs to be as there is no real sense of the victims having characters, they are all just women with no particular personalities or arcs of their own.
There is a pitch black humour present when turning the bodies into works of art and this is usually when the film works at its best. As a theme, it feels underdeveloped and doesn't get taken to any thematically or satirically pleasing points. The material really does cross taboos and is undoubtedly going to outrage many people, which is the entire point and there isn't much past that. Other than the moral crusaders that get offended by everything, most people will have enough cop on and will not rise to the gruesome bate that is being dangled in front of them.
For such a long film, the penultimate act feels rushed and a lot of threads are left dangling, and then suddenly a few new themes are picked up for the closing act. The last act will not come as a complete surprise to those well versed in Medieval Italian poetry but it still feels underdone. Not to mention that it is clear a new thematic trilogy is being planned. The metatextual and self-referential elements of the film are like everything else, utilised to mixed results and will win over some and leave others cold.
Matt Dillon really gives an amazing performance and it's my favourite of his since 'Factotum'. Jack is thoroughly detestable throughout and there is never any thought of trying to make him likeable, the great trick that is played is never to make him too difficult to spend screen time with even when your stomach is churning at his actions.
There is an attempt to make him a relevant satire in the current news cycle and this also works at self-criticism at Lars himself that has mixed results, again it is just too half-baked.
The rest of the cast put in fairly solid performances with the script and screen time they are given. There a so few characters that it feels like a very intimate film and gives a sense of a very empty depressing world. This is a thread that does get tied up nicely (literally and figuratively ) in the fourth act which is also the most nihilist and definitely veers far too much into torture porn and feels a bit out of place with the other acts.
It is a fine enough film but its self-indulgent nature just ends up leaving everything a little bit flat by the time the credits roll. Overall it doesn’t add anything new to the serial killer genre even if it will stick with you for weeks after.