The Killer Inside Me is a 2010 American film adaptation of the 1952 novel of the same name by Jim Thompson, directed by Michael Winterbottom.
We follow Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford (played by Casey Affleck), a law enforcer of a small Texan town, as he is asked by his superior to move along a prostitute, Joyce (played by Jessica Alba) who has recently set up shop. Despite his orders, and the fact that he has a girlfriend (played by Kate Hudson), Lou forges ahead with an affair. An opportunity soon arises however to get revenge on the person he suspects had his brother killed a few years earlier. Soon the Deputy launches into a plan of murder and cover-ups, and the depths of his insanity are slowly revealed.
The violence against women in this movie is extremely graphic and unsettling. While the film shies away from the visual depiction of violence towards men, it shows the violence directed towards women in a visually and aurally graphic way.
The main character graphically kills the people he loves the most. One can argue this is due to his not believing he deserves happiness, or because of a perceived link between love and violence, sex and death.
One must look and wonder at what the intent of the movie was. Was it to highlight violence committed against women, which has been depicted deeper, from an individual, historical and sociological point of view, and less graphically (although still very disturbing) in the Millenium trilogy of books and films, or was it to tell a pulp crime- fiction story?
If it is the latter, the director has responded to critics of the Sundance opening of the film that the world presented in the novel is a ‘hyper reality’, and that it is not realistic, due to the movie’s pulp origins and also due to the fact that the story is told from the disturbed first person’s point of view; the movie’s protagonist\antagonist. If that is the case, why present the story and its violence so realistically? Sin City was extremely violent, but was presented in a hyper-stylized way, celebrating its hard-boiled, grim graphic-novel origins which were a hyper-stylized throw-back to film noir, hard-boild pulp fictions in the first place. The Killer Inside Me takes a story from a pulp magazine and presents it in a very realistic way, with only a few posters and the intro sequence tying it in with its pulp origins.
This adaptation may be highly faithful to its source material, however, as Stanley Kubrick has said, the source material is “the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind.” If this is the case, should the film then be more of a character study of the character’s motives and intent, rather then concentrating on the violence of his actions, especially towards women? The Silence of the Lambs was a brilliant study of not one, but two criminally insane minds, building tension and horror without the need to show any graphic violence. American Psycho holds a similar theme as The Killer Inside Me in that it is a concentrated first-person perspective of the main protagonist/antagonist but it was also a fantastic character/psychological study and a satire of the 80’s yuppie male with a brilliant performance from Christian Bale.
Through flash-backs we learn the psycho-sexual cause of Lou’s mental illness (critics may argue that it isn’t), and we experience his calculating self-preservation, much like Mat Damon’s Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr Ripley. Unlike Ripley, Lou holds no perceived guilt over his actions, as he does not hold himself responsible for them. Lou merely reacts to the world around him, painting himself a victim to circumstance and chance.
In relation to the violence, Jessica Alba said the following:
“It’s a Jim Thompson novel about a sociopathic killer who’s a coward! I think the detail that went into the killing of the women is actually showing how weak he is, because he’s preying on the people who loved him the most. I think a lot of people also want everything to be shiny happy people, and they want killing to be a sexy guy with his shirt off blowing guys’ heads off. This just shows how horrifying it is, which is responsible, actually.”
And Casey Affleck in turn;
"I hope there's room for discussion around this film, and room for people to tell us we're being irresponsible," he said. "But to me, irresponsible is when you have a movie where 300 people get killed by robots, and none of it matters, none of it registers. In this movie, we wanted the violence to seem real, and the victims of violence to seem real. I think we've been very responsible in how we approached the violence. I wouldn't have done the movie otherwise.”
The film is shot beautifully, with fantastic performances all round. Casey Affleck is amazing in his role, and Simon Baker is surprisingly terrific as the county attorney who is highly suspicious of Lou (I’ve hated Simon Baker ever since his character slept with Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada.........maybe I should just get over it). Jessica Alba’s performance breaks your heart, and it is interesting to see Kate Hudson in a relatively less glamorous role that we are used to.
A highlight of the film is the representation of the burden of evidence to charge, and convict, one who is found guilty of a crime/s . Because there is a lack of evidence against Lou, he cannot be charged for his crimes. However, as the tight knight community rightly knows, there is a difference between one being found ‘not guilty’ of a crime and one being ‘innocent’, much in the same way as Johnny Depp’s character discovers in the movie, Rear Window.
This is an odd film because it is exceptionally well made, well acted and looks beautiful. Even though Lou does not completely understand his responsibility of his actions, the beautiful look of the film (the shots of remote landscapes, the 1950’s urban and city architecture, costumes all shot in hot daylight) are not enjoyed due to the unease that we as an audience feel as a result of such actions. We are successfully made privy to the happiness and beauty that surrounds the main character, but are saddened that it is so out of reach for him. Like Scott Pilgrim, The Dark Knight and, to a lesser extent Shutter Island, this is a film that transcends its pulp origins. It is just a shame that, unlike the above mentioned films, its pulp content was not evolved to match a more specific intent and therefore focus the film’s reason for being.
Due to the technical craftsmanship of the film, I give it 2 fedora hats out of 5, however, due to the harrowing, misguided and surprisingly gratuitous graphic scenes of violence against women I cannot recommend watching it.
Luke McWilliams September 2010