The Killer Inside Me

The Killer Inside Me

****

Reviewed by: Nick Da Costa

The Killer Inside Me is the story of Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), a small town sheriff with one face for the public he serves and one for behind closed doors. His public persona hides murderous intentions and a damaged past and when he is asked to chase prostitute Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba) out of town, his life soon starts to unravel.

On a purely visceral level, the film is unrelenting, the repeated acts of violence recalling the fire extinguisher scene from Gasper Noé’s equally disturbing Irreversible; the wet crunch as metal impacts on face corresponding to the punches Lou Ford unleashes early in the film. Also - though Winterbottom suggested it was unintentionally loud at the premiere - the sound is almost a character in itself. Similar to Noé's use of bass saturation to unsettle an audience.

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You could call it misogynistic. You could certainly call it gratuitous. Several people in the audience were cursing under their breath suggesting a degree of both, but to claim either would be to misunderstand what Winterbottom is trying to say. It’s not the violence that’s important. It’s what happens either side of it.

Winterbottom is keen to express Ford’s mental fracture and depicts an unsettling balance between tender gesture and destructive force. When Ford whispers: "I love you. Goodbye" or gives a cheerful whistle, a giggle catches in your throat. His nonchalance is absurd. Almost comical. Yet terrible at the same time. Similarly, the use of Spade Cooley’s Shame On You is both a period detail and also a knowing punctuation of murder.

There are times where the balance is off. Lou’s relationships with Sheriff Bob Maples (Tom Bower) and Johnnie Pappas (Liam Aiken) feel skimped on. The latter critical to giving us some insight into Lou’s struggle with empathy and his fellow man. Similarly, the wordplay, Lou’s dangerous, tricky game he plays with both the characters and the audience that hints at how smart he really is, isn't quite as prevalent as in the book.

Unfortunately it’s an inevitable trade-off when you’re translating a purely first-person narrative - the diary of a dangerous mind, so to speak - to a cinematic narrative. There isn’t quite the same bond with the audience and we’re not quite so entrenched in the mind as Winterbottom would like. That’s not his fault. That’s the tricky, sometimes insurmountable, part of adaptation.

Stylistically, however it's all on the director, and it’s a mixed bag. There’s a touch of Edward Hopper in the period detail. Beauty in the ordinary, but also something unsettling. It‘s certainly not L.A. Confidentia’. It’s not a tribute or trophy. It doesn’t look ornate. There’s a documentary eye for detail at work here and so everything looks lived-in. There’s also an interesting use of jump cuts, flashbacks and audio to convey how unstable Lou Ford is.

I’m not sure the same could be said of some of the pacing. Several scenes lack dramatic momentum, the delivery arrhythmic and accentuated by some of the rather abrupt editing. Considering how sharp and punchy the original dialogue is, this is unforgivable. Some of the worst moments feature the actor playing Pappas. He’s truly wretched and it makes you wonder if they confused his stand-in for the real thing.

As for the other performances, the standouts are surprising and not. Alba’s role might be small, but her fate looms over the entire movie and she deals with the rather unpleasant psychosexual content well. There’s a touch of Jennifer Jones about her, and that she isn’t swallowed up by Affleck is testament to her solid work here.

Speaking of which, Affleck is mesmerising as the lead. His baby face and slim physique offer an immediate contrast with his actions. His soft, cracking drawl that seems to turn everything he’s saying into a single, potent word. The way he sucks on his teeth then opens his mouth in a piranha smile that suggests violence. But it’s never overdone. It’s just as precise a performance as his work in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He understands that the violence is meant to be explosive and shocking so dials it down until required.

And that’s just what the film is. Required viewing. It’s not easy, and it’s not without its controversy or even faults. But just because it isn’t about make-believe and doesn’t shy away from violence, even if it is directed at women, doesn’t mean it should be dismissed out of hand. It deserves to be understood. The churning emotions that underlie the violence is what makes it important and what makes it worthy of further discussion.

Reviewed on: 27 Jan 2010
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Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford is a pillar of the community in his small Texan town - patient, polite and well liked... until he starts killing people.
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Director: Michael Winterbottom

Writer: John Curran, Michael Winterbottom, based on the novel by Jim Thompson,

Starring: Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Simon Baker, Elias Koteas

Year: 2010

Runtime: 148 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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If you like this, try:

Irreversible