The Killer Inside Me Review
Texas, the 1950s. Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is a small-town deputy sheriff. His boss, Bob Maples (Tom Bower) instructs Lou to persuade a prostitute, Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba) to leave town. This instruction comes from town boss Chester Conway (Ned Beatty), whose son is involved with Joyce. Discovering a shared taste for sadomasochistic sex, Lou and Joyce become lovers. But then Lou hears that Chester is responsible for the death of Lou's foster brother.
I haven't read Jim Thompson's 1952 novel, which Stanley Kubrick (for whom Thompson co-wrote The Killing and Paths of Glory) called “the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered”. Nor have I seen the 1976 film version directed by Burt Kennedy, where Stacy Keach played Lou. In Michael Winterbottom's prolific and versatile career, it was probably inevitable that he would make a film noir. Working from a flavoursome script by John Curran and returning to shooting on film after several DV- or HD-shot features, Winterbottom has the latter-day noir stylistics down pat. This is a film that can be enjoyed for its atmosphere and unassuming sense of place and period alone. However, Winterbottom is a primarily European director in sensibility, more character- and mood-driven than plot-driven, and you may well find that that atmosphere threatens to overwhelm the story being told.
Casey Affleck is an increasingly impressive actor: his Lou is all clean-scrubbed Eagle Scout politeness, but behind those eyes and that grin you can see a snake unfurl. That geniality can turn to psychopathic malice in an instant. This leads to what has been the main discussion point of this film ever since it premiered at Sundance at the beginning of the year. In two scenes, Lou viciously beats Joyce and his girlfriend Amy (Kate Hudson). These scenes are ugly and distressing, and meant to be so, and many people will quite understandably not be able to watch them. (On the other hand, some of the more lurid details in media reports do not match up with what's actually on screen, and it's inaccurate to say that both beatings are fatal.) Debates about what and how much to show of screen violence have been going on for years. I certainly doubt that anyone will find these scenes a turn-on, and it's made clear that while Joyce is up for a bit of rough sex, that's by no means the same as wanting to be beaten to death. Perhaps because the violence is inflicted by the protagonist, Winterbottom's film has been singled out, a little unfairly: other films have gone further with less justification: this year alone, we've had The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for example. And in reply to the charge that Winterbottom lingers on the violence against female characters more than he does to that against males, one male does get killed quite graphically on screen as well. This scene is certainly shorter, but that's a reflection of it being much quicker to shoot someone than to beat them to a pulp.
The Killer Inside Me is undeniably a dark experience, and certainly not a pleasant one, nor is it meant to be. It's possibly unfair, and maybe the filmmakers' error of balance, that two particular scenes, running about five minutes in total, have overwhelmed the rest of this hour-and-three-quarter-length film. But I'm in no doubt that the film is honourably intentioned, and there's no reason why a forewarned adult should not be allowed to see it.