The Killer Inside Me

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Michael Winterbottom

Starring

Casey Affleck Jessica Alba Kate Hudson

Anticipation.

It’s always fun to see what crazy direction Michael Winterbottom will take next.

Enjoyment.

A sturdy Tex-Mex character study with unneeded S&M baggage. Good opening credits too.

In Retrospect.

A baffling film. Not just the narrative, but the motives behind making it.

A scene of almost unwatchable violence will colour your opinion on Michael Winterbottom’s dark thriller.

Calling Michael Winterbottom a cinematic nomad would perhaps attach an unwarranted mystique to the director’s erratic, if occasionally fascinating, career to date. Hopping between genres, styles, periods and locations like some kind of mad prog rock alchemist, the more films he makes – and it’s been an average of about one a year for the past decade – the tougher it becomes to detect any overall purpose or thematic consistency in his work.

Unlike, say, Kubrick or Hawks, he lacks a distinct authorial stamp, a key trait or abiding interest which would help us not only rationalise his choice of material, but allow us to view his films as the product of an artist.

His latest, The Killer Inside Me, perpetuates the problem. It’s a sweaty, sand-blasted pulp noir based on a novel by Jim Thompson that belongs to a warped family of films that attempt to humanise psychopaths, from American Psycho to Roberto Succo to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Cast-wise, this is easily Winterbottom’s most star-spangled movie to date; yet its leisurely pacing, austere subject matter and more-is-more attitude to screen violence means that it’s the type of thing the studios wouldn’t touch with a barge pole.

Casey Affleck delivers a committed turn as emotionally vacant small town Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford, an apparently clean-cut southern gent who, it transpires, is prone to bouts of premeditated brutality against friends, lovers and associates. The film chronicles the swift unravelling of his sadistic world via an attempt to blackmail a local property tycoon (Ned Beatty), with Ford using his meagre powers of law enforcement to subtly engineer situations to suit his homicidal whims.

Though Affleck’s performance is cut from a similar lovable-rogue-with-violent-tendencies cloth as his turns in Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James, Lou Ford is perhaps his most ominous and indefensible character to date. Apart from the few flashbacks that show his various childhood traumas (including the bizarre roots of his spanking fetish), the reasons for his murderous drive are left unanswered. Like the title suggests, he’s just a regular Joe who’s got the devil in his soul. And that’s it.

Though you’d be hard pressed to see the film as anything if not robust, there is little evidence that Winterbottom has tried to give the source material his own personal spin. Beyond Lou Ford, the various side-players feel like little more than single-note ciphers whose only purpose is to keep the plot moving forward. It leaves you to wonder what fun a more resourceful filmmaker (the Coens, perhaps) would have had fashioning these juicy archetypes into memorable characters.

Ultimately, though, this is a film which will live or die in your memory based on your reaction to a scene of almost unwatchable violence that occurs within the opening half an hour, and which has duly invoked comparisons to both Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible and Lars von Trier’s Antichrist. Certainly the extremity of the material marks this out as another piece of test-your-mettle cinema, but whether its inclusion has any intellectual basis is highly questionable.

Published 3 Jun 2010

Tags: Casey Affleck Jessica Alba Kate Hudson

Anticipation.

It’s always fun to see what crazy direction Michael Winterbottom will take next.

Enjoyment.

A sturdy Tex-Mex character study with unneeded S&M baggage. Good opening credits too.

In Retrospect.

A baffling film. Not just the narrative, but the motives behind making it.

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