The Killer Inside Me Review
Jim Thompson was a US pulp fiction writer who wrote the majority of his work during the middle of the 20th Century. Often compared to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, he was always regarded as the darkest of his contemporaries, often prepared to go that extra step to get inside the mind of a killer. Some of his books have been adapted to film, including, most famously, The Getaway (originally a Peckinpah film starring Steve McQueen, then remade with Alec Baldwin) and The Grifters (with John Cusack). In 1976, the year before his death, one of his most acclaimed works – The Killer Inside Me – was made into a movie. Unfortunately, it did not live up to his expectations in staying true to the original source material. A remake has been on the cards for well over two decades – initially headlining Tom Cruise and Demi Moore in the 80s, then gaining the interest of Tarantino in the late 90s, with Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis and Uma Thurman set to star in it. Apparently, due to 9-11, the project was deemed too violent and shelved once again, only to finally be picked up by Director Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo, Wonderland) and made into a limited release 2010 movie.
The story follows the character of Lou Ford, a small-town sheriff who is handsome, charming and a strong upstanding pillar of the local community. Everybody knows and likes him, and he has a lovely devoted girlfriend. Unfortunately, he also has a dark past and an evil side to his personality – which he calls the ‘sickness’ within him. It reared its head when he was a child, but his adopted brother took the fall for the crime he subsequently committed, leaving Lou living a largely undisturbed life. But then he starts a torrid, sadomasochistic affair going on with a beautiful prostitute on the side. And things get complicated when a local big businessman, Chester Conway, wants him to run the prostitute out of town before she can cause a scandal over the fact that she was doing business with the rich man’s son, Elmer. Worse still, Lou knows that the Conways might have been involved in the ‘accidental’ death of his adopted brother. His mind working overtime, it starts to get twisted over the whole matter and he comes up with a plan which involves nothing but evil. No good can come of this.
Let me start by saying that, if you could not stomach the assault in the Gasper Noe film, Irreversible, then you should not even consider watching this movie. And if that scene left you with an uneasy feeling for quite some time after then maybe you should expect the same effect here. Frankly, I’d like to hope that takes out most of the population. Still, there will be a few left after that warning, so I’ll explain why I gave it. This film contains one of the most brutal beatings that I have EVER seen. And I’ve seen Nil By Mouth; I’ve seen Irreversible. Honestly, I think I would have preferred Tarantino to have directed this story – sure it may have been just as violent, maybe more so, but it would have been done with using stylised horror. Brutal, but somehow not quite real. This was just too real, too painful – the words spoken during the beating, the lack of resistance, the sheer number of blows (something like 30 full-on punches to the same part of the face). God, I wish I could undo having seen that.
Still, we’ll try and move on from that little forewarning. The Killer Inside Me is an odd little movie. It’s shot like some kind of pulp fiction film noir: perfect ‘50s period setting, suitable small-town Texas feel. There is even a narration to the whole thing, the lead character Leo talking over his actions, explaining his thoughts, narrating just like any protagonist on a Phillip Marlowe/Raymond Chandler book, narrating like many of the central characters did on Jim Thompson’s work too. But you’re listening to a psychotic – a serial killer, a sexual sadist and basically amoral animal dressed up in a Sheriff’s outfit, clean-shaven with a smile. It really is quite disturbing watching this guy – this sick individual who is the central focus of the whole thing – traipse through life unaccountable for all that he does. Sure, he is suspected of plenty of things, and eventually nobody seems to trust him anymore, but the whole story is about how damn difficult it is to prove he actually committed any offence at all. It’s a tough watch. You have nobody at all to associate with but Lou Ford. He is the story. The cops, the victims, the wife, the girlfriend – they are simply not developed at all. This movie is all about him.
Casey Affleck does well in the role, and has shown great range in some standout parts over the last few years: not least in Gone, Baby, Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He is cold and calculating till the end, but you can feel a brooding unease beneath his calm demeanour, a hidden fear and secret desire just to get out of this mess – to breathe again. It’s this quiet desperation that resembles perhaps the only streak of humanity within him – even if it is just instinctive. Affleck is one of the best things about the movie, but even his great central performance is not quite enough to make this compelling, intelligent, honest viewing.
The supporting actors, as already explained, have little to do other than pad out the movie, and the viewer will often wonder who these individuals are – their cameos are that insignificant. Still it’s an eclectic supporting cast that includes the always reliable but regularly underused The Thin Red Line’s Elias Koteas, Lost Highway’s Bill Pullman, Deliverance’s Ned Beatty, and Tom Bower from the TV series, The Mentalist. They all serve their purpose well, but largely scatter in the wind, with only Kate Hudson’s troubled girlfriend and Jessica Alba’s damaged prostitute standing a chance at developing their characters at all. Oddly, despite (arguably) being the better actress, Hudson suffers worse here. The once-a-name-to-watch actress has drifted a long way from Almost Famous. Here, she does her best but honestly, you often wonder what on earth is going on with her character. Alba’s character has the same problem – but to a lesser degree – and the strange randomness of her twisted love for Affleck’s Lou is one of the most original aspects of the narrative. She may not be the greatest actress – as she has almost consistently proven so far in her career (Into the Blue, Fantastic Four, Honey) – but her more challenging role here makes a nice change from the norm.
At the end of the day The Killer Inside Me left me a little bit cold. And that would have been ok, the film could have survived as a twisted, darker ‘50s set cousin of Casey Affleck’s earlier The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but for the lasting bitter aftertaste that comes from the unnecessary, shocking violence in the movie. Honestly, if they’d just toned it down a tiny bit, the focus may have stayed with the central character – where it should have been – rather than upon the horror of what you have just seen. Add to that some better development of the characters and this could have been a quality insight into the mind of a man who exhibits both psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies. As it is, whilst some might regard this as a respectful adaptation of Jim Thompson’s dark literary work (it certainly does get you into the mind of a killer, like he attempted to do with his books), I think the Director Michael Winterbottom has handicapped his own production with such a controversial scene at its core. It’s one which many of you would have likely heard about as the first thing mentioned about the movie, and it will likely be the biggest thing you remember (and probably wish you could forget) about watching the film. And that’s a shame, because there is more to this production, just not enough to offer redemption.
“It’s always lightest just before the dark.”