MOVIE: Peacock (2009)

I saw a trailer for this film a month or two ago that made it look it might be sort of a reimagining of Hitchcock’s Psycho — an intense thriller about a young man whose mother recently died after a lifetime of tormenting him, and who has since developed a second personality — a woman.

Though this IS essentially the plot, as it turns out, Peacock is not really a thriller so much as a dark story about one man’s tail-spin into madness.

John Skillpa (Cillian Murphy) is a painfully shy guy living in the small town of Peacock (I’d guess it’s the late 50s or early 60s, but I don’t think they actually say).  He works in a bank (for a bit of a tyrant, the always delightful Bill Pullman) and recently lost his mother, continuing to live in the eerie family home alone after her passing.

The townsfolk all know John, but mostly don’t interact with him much — until the day a train derails and crashes into his backyard, nearly killing a young woman none of them had ever seen before.

She introduces herself (skittishly) as Emma Skillpa, John’s wife, but we in the audience can tell immediately that she’s actually John (why no one else can tell, or even remarks on how similar they look, can only be explained by whatever phenomenon it was that protected Superman’s identity every time he put on a pair of glasses and called himself “Clark Kent”).

Almost immediately, a local politician and his wife come up with a great idea — he’s running for reelection and wants to hold a rally in the Skillpa’s backyard, as the train crash has caused a bit of a sensation.  Emma agrees, but John disagrees, and soon, the two personas are engaged in a furious battle of wills.

When a young woman named Maggie (Ellen Page) shows up to tell John her son is his child, the product of a visit from her years ago when she was a prostitute, this throw John even further for a loop.  Especially when he learns Emma is also talking to Maggie and seems to be trying to figure out a way to get custody of the little boy, Jake.  John, afraid Emma will torture Jake as his own mother tortured him, immediately begins trying to subvert all her plans for Maggie.

As the conflicts between John and Emma pile up, John becomes increasingly unstable while Emma begins to come out of her shell.  This transition was fascinating to watch and Cillian Murphy did a fantastic job, I thought, of expressing the contrast between John’s building terror and Emma’s increasing confidence.

Oddly, though the film feels like it’s leading up to a dramatic, thrilling showdown, it ends with more of a whimper than a bang.  It’s possible a more thriller-type finale would’ve felt too predictable, too expected, so I can understand why the filmmakers might not have wanted to go that route.  But while this film was definitely adept at creating a mesmerizing and tense mood, ultimately it left me feeling unsatisfied.  I don’t know how it might’ve avoided that — I have no suggestions for a better ending.  But I wanted more than I ended up with, which is always a bit of a let-down.

All in all, an interesting and unusual film, and one well worth a rental for Cillian Murphy fans.  Sort of recommended, but don’t hate me if you end up hating it.

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Drama
Cast:  Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, Susan Sarandon, Josh Lucas, Graham Beckel, Bill Pullman, Keith Carradine

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