The Killer Inside Me
Review by Jack Foley
MICHAEL Winterbottom is no stranger to controversy, having directed the likes of the sexually explicit 9 Songs and the politically reactive Road To Guantanamo and A Mighty Heart.
With The Killer Inside Me, an adaptation of a classic Jim Thompson novel, he’s under the spotlight again for two shocking scenes of violence.
The British filmmaker argues passionately that the scenes are warranted, designed to shock and in keeping with the tone of the source material. But audiences at festivals have got up to express their disgust, or simply left the cinema groaning.
It’s a shame given that there’s still plenty in The Killer Inside Me to admire… not least in the strength of its central performances and the overall quality of its intelligent screenplay (which really gets inside a killer’s mind).
It can also be argued that the violent scenes in question – involving the beating to death of two women – show the acts for what they really are: the cold, horrible, pointless actions of a deeply troubled soul.
But there’s no getting away from the feeling that Winterbottom’s camera lingers a little too long (though not necessarily voyeuristically). The first beating, in particular, is relentless in its barbarity… forcing you to look away in repulsion.
The second is just as bad, if not worse… and really does leave your stomach churning (as violence should).
But the rest of the film struggles to overcome those moments and the damage has been done. It never recovers.
And yet, as we said previously, there is a lot to admire… as Winterbottom fearlessly switches genres once again to deliver an otherwise gripping insight into the American mid-west of the 1950s, as first observed through Thompson’s equally provocative text.
The film is all about Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), an apparently good-natured and good-looking deputy sheriff, who has a way with women… primarily with his long-term girlfriend Amy (Kate Hudson), but also with fiery prostitute Joyce (Jessica Alba).
Beneath the easygoing exterior, however, lies a man scarred by an abusive past at the hands of his father, as well as a seething resentment concerning the fate of his lost brother-in-law, which several of the townsfolk are complicit in.
When Lou concocts a plan to get even, involving murder and deceit, the plan triggers feelings within him that send him on a path from which there can be no happy ending.
As Ford, Affleck channels both sides of the character well: appearing calm and in-control on the outside, yet torn up within. It’s a complex, layered performance that commands complete attention, especially as events begin to spiral beyond even his control.
But there’s also strong support from the likes of Hudson (tragically naive and happy-go-lucky), Alba (provocative in the extreme), and ensemble players Ned Beatty, Elias Koteas, Bill Pullman and The Mentalist‘s Simon Baker.
Winterbottom also keeps things simmering nicely, allowing Lou’s plan to unfold and unravel in meticulous fashion… and really presenting his viewers with some moral and ethical dilemmas to sink their teeth into.
In doing so, he also creates a believable look for the film, which taps into ’50s sensibilities well, while still carrying contemporary resonance.
But in spite of all this good work, it’s the violence that stings most and which leaves too big an emotional scar for viewers to carry. In attempting to be provocative, Winterbottom has over-stepped the mark and given viewers too much of an easy target upon which to vent their anger.
Hence, what should have been perceived as a difficult and extremely challenging movie, is now likely to be one that’s overtaken by the notoriety surrounding it.
Running time: 109mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release Date: September 27, 2010
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Michael Winterbottom interview
- The Killer Inside Me Gallery