Michael Winterbottom certainly hasn’t sniffed at the opportunity to helm a challenging project or two during his career and as expected his latest venture, The Killer Inside Me, has proved to be anything but simple or straightforward. With recent successes such as Code 46 and The Road to Guantanamo under his belt, Winterbottom has emerged as one of Britain’s most accomplished filmmakers over the past decade. Winterbottom’s success has been built on the ability to intertwine enthralling drama with an array of complex psychological and social traumas. The Killer Inside Me is no different.
Working from pulp writer Jim Thompson’s novel of the same name, Winterbottom grounds the film within the darkest depths of the hardboiled and film noir genres. What separates this film from Winterbottom’s other work is that it is so breathtakingly stylised through the use of a quite stunning collection of 1950s Americana, that you sit completely mesmerised by its beauty.
However, such aesthetic pleasure should not blind us from the fact that at its core, The Killer Inside Me is as dark and amoral as they come. The story itself follows a deputy sheriff named Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) from a small West Texas town who is struggling to hide the true nature of his character. Lou is a well-respected official within the town he patrols, yet when he is asked to ‘evict’ a prostitute named Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba) from the peaceful suburbs, his mask of sanity begins to slip.
Lou’s encounter with Joyce unearths a deeply perverse and psychotic alter ego, where his indulgence in pseudo-masochistic activity is sharply contrasted with the stoic persona we are initially introduced to. As is typical with the film noir genre we get a first-person narration throughout from the main protagonist and as the film progresses we get an intimate insight into the warped mind of Lou Ford.
Winterbottom cleverly plays with the notion of deception and the hidden evil within Lou, in much the same way that the initial aesthetics of the film deceive us of the impending atrocities. This exploration of hidden identity and psychosis is perhaps the films most effective quality, as the rest of the film is hardly a smooth ride.
Upon the film’s release at Sundance, there were a number of rumblings about some of the graphic violence and rumours of walkouts from the screenings – most noticeably a rumour that Jessica Alba had stormed out halfway through the opening screening because of the explicit content, a rumour that was in fact false. Indeed The Killer Inside Me exhibits an amount of unnerving material that you must be prepared for.
The upsetting nature of Lou’s violence is truly shocking and in no way pleasurable to watch. Such brutal acts in no way resemble the fetishised violence that has become so popular in so called ‘torture-porn’ movies, and this is deliberately so. The reason I suggest this is a deliberate ploy is that Lou’s shocking brutality to people he cares for, is in some ways an act of perversion or pseudo-sexual pleasure. Consequently, the ways in which both Joyce and girlfriend Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson) are subjected to acts of meticulous abuse begin to transform Lou into an increasingly vicious and abhorrent character.
No doubt there will be a grand fuss whipped up about the films graphic violence, in particular a scene where the disturbing nature of facial disfigurement is left for all to see. Yet we should not ignore that this film has some value, but is not without its flaws.
In some respects the tension that is built up within Lou’s unpredictable character is somehow not sustained. This, perhaps, is a consequence of providing no way in which to invest our interest or sympathy within the character. Unlike a number of cinematic psychotic serial killers and murderers such as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs or Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker in Bonnie and Clyde, Lou does not carry the same charisma that makes us want him to get away with his crimes. This is not to say that Casey Affleck performs his character poorly. Affleck injects a steely cold quality into Lou that makes him quite fearsome, it is just that there is no explanation for Lou’s schizophrenic behaviour to make us feel anything but hatred towards him. Winterbottom indeed tries to add subtlety and mystique as to why Lou is so troubled; something that was not evident in the overly melodramatic original which Winterbottom chose to ignore when re-adapting the material. It is just that the The Killer Inside Me leaves no sense of tragedy or sorrow, just a feeling that you want a shower afterwards.
The ensemble cast that Winterbottom puts together is interesting but lacklustre in parts. While Elias Kosteas is just as creepy as he was in Shutter Island, the appearance of Simon Baker of The Mentalist fame, is a cheap and obvious choice as the films crime solving whiz. The inclusion of star names such as Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson will no doubt attract attention but it does seem an odd career change considering their recent catalogue of films hardly impresses, (Bride Wars and Fantastic Four need I say more?) but I do now have restored faith that Alba can in fact act.
There are many interesting facets to The Killer Inside Me, yet the dramatic tension that Winterbottom has previously mastered in psycho-thrillers such as Butterfly Kiss is wholly absent. A valiant effort that’s worth the watch just for its aesthetic beauty, but if you’re looking for a truly tension fuelled neo-noir thriller, look up Joel and Ethan Coen’s Blood Simple.