Killer Inside Me, The (United States, 2010)June 29, 2010
The Killer Inside Me, British director Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of American pulp writer Jim Thompson's novel, is full of nice little touches, but somehow misses the mark when it comes to the big picture. Winterbottom's approach is a little too playful for material this dark and cynical and his attempts to dramatize the title and provide a window into a psychopath's psychology don't bear fruit. Casey Aflleck's performance, likely the result of an artistic choice, results in a bland character and the entire production seems slightly "off." The Killer Inside Me looks great and has some raw, unsettling moments, but the overall impression is of a production that fails to achieve what it sets out to do.
The movie transpires during the middle of the 20th century in Central City, Texas, where vestiges of the Wild West have not been completely crowded out by modern society. Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is the perfect picture of a lawman - clean-cut, polite, and reluctant to carry a gun - in short, the kind of guy every mother hopes her daughter will marry. He has one personality flaw, however: he's a psychopath. Cold and ruthless, he can kill without compunction or twinges of conscience, even when he loves the object of his violence. There are hints of a multiple personality disorder and intimations that instances of childhood sexual deviancy lie at the root of his problems. But the upstanding Lou, so well-liked in the community and loved by his boss, Sheriff Bob Maples (Tom Bower), is not who he appears to be.
The monster emerges when Lou is asked by Central City's resident bigwig, Chester Conway (Ned Beatty), to chase away prostitute Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba), who has formed an attachment with Chester's son. Sensing a way to make some money and settle an old score, Lou devises a plan that results in two deaths and $10,000 in missing money. But Lou leaves behind too much forensic evidence and he is soon faced with the necessity of committing more murders to hide his involvement in the original crime. And, although he loved Joyce, he plays up his relationship with "good girl" Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson) to camouflage his dalliances with the prostitute.
The Killer Inside Me is both fascinating and frustrating. It is fascinating in that it provides us with a protagonist who thinks he's smoother and smarter than he is. Since we observe things as filtered through his perspective, we initially believe he's committing the perfect crime. Eventually, however, we come to recognize that Lou is a bumbler and has left a trail of evidence so wide that only an incompetent wouldn't be able to follow it. It is frustrating in that the portrait of Lou feels incomplete. Winterbottom is sometimes close when it comes to synchronizing us with Lou's mindset, but he never fully succeeds. The character feels incomplete and, as a result, the movie never comes together.
Winterbottom has elected not to present this as film noir, even though that would seem to be the obvious way to frame it. Instead, by limiting his use of shadow, setting many scenes under the midday sun, and employing an offbeat (and sometimes inappropriate) musical score, he approaches the material more as a psychological thriller than a traditional potboiler. Winterbottom, who has never been one to limit what he depicts on screen (one of his films is the notorious art-porn offering, Nine Songs), provides scenes of startling brutality and images of stark sexuality. The film's female characters, although not strictly falling into the femme fatale category, are thinly drawn caricatures whose most obvious characteristics are that they like rough sex. Orgasms come hand-in-hand with beatings and spankings.
It's hard to say whether Casey Affleck is miscast or whether Winterbottom's view of how the character should be played is flawed, but Lou comes across as bland and surprisingly uninteresting. Affleck doesn't display much in the way of an emotional range, which might be appropriate for a psychopath, but this quality makes him a dull specimen around which to build a movie. Screen killers don't have to be boring - one of the most suave motion picture psychos of all time, Alain Delon's Tom Ripley in Purple Noon, is consistently fascinating. Certainly, Affleck's Ford is no Ripley. He's a little like Owen Wilson's Vann in The Minus Man, although that film is better plotted than this one.
The female leads, Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba, do competent jobs in roles that are significantly outside of their respective comfort zones. Alba, showing more both literally and figuratively than she has in any of her previous films, is surprisingly appealing in a limited and clichéd role. The strangest casting choice is Bill Pullman. Despite prominent billing, Pullman's participation amounts to little more than a bizarre cameo and his function is essentially as a hard-to-swallow plot device.
Thompson's novel suffers from the paring necessary to fit it into an under-110 minute time slot; there are some odd narrative jumps and a sense that scenes have been omitted. Also, the thing Thompson is best known for - his tone - is replicated in only a faltering and uneven fashion. For Winterbottom, whose film choices are diverse and fearless, The Killer Inside Me represents a rare misfire - not a complete disaster (like Code 46) but something in which the elements don't fuse in an optimal manner. Fans of lurid period pieces will find things to appreciate here, but mainstream viewers, even those who enjoy psychological thrillers, will be less impressed.
Killer Inside Me, The (United States, 2010)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Screenplay: John Curran, based on the novel by Jim Thompson
Cinematography: Marcel Zyskind
Music: Melissa Parmenter