Thursday, October 7, 2010

DVD Review: The Killer Inside Me

The Killer Inside Me ** ½
Directed by:
Michael Winterbottom
Written By: John Curran based on the novel by Jim Thompson.
Starring: Casey Affleck (Lou Ford), Kate Hudson (Amy Stanton), Jessica Alba (Joyce Lakeland), Ned Beatty (Chester Conway), Elias Koteas (Joe Rothman), Tom Bower (Sheriff Bob Maples), Simon Baker (Howard Hendricks), Bill Pullman (Billy Boy Walker), Brent Briscoe (Bum / Stranger), Liam Aiken (Johnnie Pappas).

Casey Affleck has such a sweet, young baby face that it makes his performance as a sexually sadistic psychopath in The Killer Inside Me all the more chilling. Outwardly, his Sheriff’s Deputy Lou Ford seems like the nicest guy you could possibly want to meet – with his shit eating grin, his constant barrage of clichéd speech and his slow, Southern drawl, he seems like a perfectly normal, if somewhat hokey 1950s Texas lawman. But behind all that exterior is a cold, cruel man who he doesn’t want anyone to see.

Based on Jim Thompson’s 1950s novel, that apparently Stanley Kubrick was such a huge fan of that he hired Thompson to write The Killing for him, The Killer Inside Me as a novel is one of the most chilling books ever written about the mind of a psychopath. Keep in mind that it was written long before psychiatrists starting studying psychopaths, and it is even more remarkable at just how eerily good Thompson’s novel is in its details. Told entirely from the point of view of the psycho in question – Lou Ford – the novel places us directly inside his mind as he murders his way through his small Texas town, and it is completely chilling.

But something has been lost in the translation from book to screen, and Michael Winterbottom’s movie just doesn’t quite feel right. Affleck is amazing as Ford, a man whose violent, sexual relationship with a prostitute (Jessica Alba) reawakens his dark desires that he had long since suppressed, and thought he was over. His violent tastes start to consume him – not just when he’s with Alba, but when he’s with his sweet, naïve, innocent fiancée (Kate Hudson) as well. He comes up with a plan to hopefully rid himself of the demons once and for all – and it involves murder – but once that is done, he has to continue killing, more and more people, to keep from getting found out. By the end of the film his demons have completely consumed him.

Winterbottom is one of those interesting directors who seems at home in pretty much any genre – from costume dramas (Jude) to sci-fi (Code 46) to documentary (The Road to Guantanamo) to heart rending dramas (A Mighty Heart) to goofy comedy (Tristan Shandy) to Westerns (The Claim) to art porn (9 Songs). He wants to try every genre imaginable in his career. In The Killer Inside Me, he has made a hard boiled, Southern noir, and gives the film a dark look, and the whole thing seems sort of surreal – kind of like a film noir directed by David Lynch. I liked the visual look of the film that harkens back to the past. The violence in the movie is harsh, unrelenting and somewhat sickening – but then again that is how it should be in a film like this. The charges that the film is misoganystic are ridiculous, because just because its main character hates women, it doesn’t mean the film does.

The problem with the movie I think is that Thompson’s novel doesn’t really lend itself to the movie treatment. Its strength is that it traps the reader inside the mind of a psychopath and doesn’t let them go. The fact that the other characters in the novel aren’t fully drawn out makes sense in a novel – after all, he doesn’t really have any feelings, and views people just as a means to an end to get what he wants out of them. That works in the book, but in the movie it is unsatisfying. It’s not that Jessica Alba or Kate Hudson are bad in the film – they really are about as good as they can be given what they have to work with – but Ford sees them merely as objects, and the screenplay by John Curran doesn’t develop them, or anyone else any further.

It must be said though that Casey Affleck truly is great in the lead role – and he does an amazing job at showing us behind the mask that his character has spent a lifetime building up. It is a haunting performance. But the movie remains slightly distant in every other sense. Absent the true inner workings of a psychopath, that the books long passages allowed us to glimpse, this is just another neo-noir that decides looking cool was more important than anything else. It’s a shame, because there is greatness in the movie, but the overall effect is lacking.

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