Dir. Michael Winterbottom, USA, 2009, 110 min.
Michael Winterbottom’s staggeringly violent adaptation of Jim Thompson’s 1952 novel The Killer Inside Me reaches a new extreme in the cinematic depiction of a psychopathic murderer. It is hard to watch – and for some will be impossible - regardless of any psychological logic behind its many killings.
Distributors everywhere will be shy of this film, despite Winterbottom’s established reputation. Anyone releasing it will be dogged by its violence, especially towards women. Theatrical response should be similar to Antichrist, another film whose violence is at the extreme of what is watchable.
The killer is (and is in) Sheriff’s Deputy Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), the son of respectable parents in Central City, Texas. Ford is imperturbable, except for when provoked, as we see in an encounter with a local prostitute, Joyce (Jessica Alba), who gets a beating after she strikes him, and then becomes Ford’s lover. He eventually kills her and the local mayor’s spoiled son, which he blames on Joyce.
Affleck plays Lou Ford as a boy scout who graduated to the police force with an eerily high voice and a rigidity that seems inscrutable. His motivation in killing seeps through over the course of the film, but far more time is devoted to the murders of two women than there is to why Ford kills them.
More violent than Chigurh, the killer in No Country for Old Men, Ford is also far more cerebral than American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. In his ability to talk about almost anything, he is reminiscent of real killers like the well-groomed Ted Bundy.
Thompson’s novel is mostly dialogue and interior monologue, so an adaptation has flexibility in its depiction of Ford’s town. Production design by Rob Simons and Mark Tildesley recreates a sedate western city meticulously, down the details of Ford’s clothing, about which the killer is fastidious. Cinematography by Marcel Zyskind takes us back to the 1950’s with the precision that Ford applies to his own life.
Ford’s exterior, as played with serene control by Affleck, is a defence and an offence. It hides the horrific drives inside him, which the film never probes satisfactorily, and it challenges anyone to penetrate through the mask of decorum. Winterbottom seems to be assuming that, as a work of fiction, The Killer Inside Me plays by its own rules, and that a character’s actions are better witnessed than explained.
Just as troubling are Joyce and Ford’s girlfriend, Amy (Kate Hudson), who remain drawn to him despite beatings and signs of depravity. Ford’s acceptance by these women could be why audiences will attack the film on grounds of misogyny. Winterbottom seems to suggest that their willingness to endure violence, like Ford’s aggression, are things that can happen to people.
The Killer Inside Me is well within American film noir territory, in that it identifies the criminal without understanding the crime.
Secondary roles are solid, with Ned Beatty as the town’s corrupt mayor whom Ford blackmails, and Bill Pullman as the wildly inane lawyer who escorts Ford out of an insane asylum, enabling him to kill one last time. Simon Baker plays the district attorney who sees through Ford’s defenses and hates what he sees.
Audiences up to their ears in cinematic serial killers may enter this film, thinking blithely that they already know them all. Like it or not, Winterbottom will prove them wrong.
Curiously Bright Entertainment
Indion Entertainment Group
+ 33 6 20 36 77 72
Bradford L. Schlei
John Curran, based on the novel by Jim Thompson