Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Movie Review: The Killer Inside Me (2010)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Movie Review: The Killer Inside Me (2010)

by Tony Dayoub


Filmed once before in the seventies with the more imposing Stacy Keach in the role, Michael Winterbottom's new version of Jim Thompson's novel, The Killer Inside Me, feels creepier because of the casting of the relatively slight and soft-spoken Casey Affleck as the sociopathic Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford. True, the vacant-eyed Affleck played a murderer pretty effectively before as Robert Ford (no relation) in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). That film's killer, a weak-willed worm with a serious case of hero envy, is driven by emotional problems which are quite easy to quantify. What distinguishes Lou Ford is the lack of emotion behind his congenial nature. This is the coldest nice guy in cinema since Martin Sheen's skinny Kit in Badlands (1973).



Ford's psychosis is very specifically addressed towards women. As a child, Ford assaulted a little girl. Later, a formative sexual relationship with a babysitter which involved sado-masochistic spanking and rough play excited his sick tendencies. A chance police encounter with Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba), a prostitute who admits enjoying violence in her sex, leads to a relationship which unlocks his monstrous side. He conspires with her to seek retribution on a town bigwig (Ned Beatty) that has done them both wrong, even while coming home to lead a serene life with his cute straight-laced fiancee, Amy (Kate Hudson). So when these women cross an invisible line Ford has established only in his mind—whether its Lakeland's transgression from being his lover to being the slutty bait in their blackmail scheme, or his polluted perception of Amy after finding some photographs of her tied up and in flagrante—his fatal reaction is swift, complete, and not just a little bit directed at the weak female side of his own character.

While he viciously pounds Lakeland over and over again in an unflinching, disturbing scene where Alba's gorgeous face is reduced to a twisted mass of bloody flesh, the unfeeling deputy reassures her, whispering, "I love you. I love you," as she falls into a coma. This sickening scene and a few others bolster some of the attacks which accuse The Killer Inside Me of glorifying violence against women. But in truth, Ford's psychosexual motivations justify Winterbottom's approach to the violent scenes. The camera may linger much longer to witness Ford's assaults against females than it does when he dispatches men. But the relative expediency in which Ford eliminates male victims betrays his lack of emotional involvement with them. Their quick termination are his personal self-assurance that these particular executions are simply "business, not personal," to paraphrase another movie monster.


Obviously, The Killer Inside Me works best as a character study. Affleck gives one more among a recent line of fine performances, behaving one way publicly while he privately succumbs to his darker impulses. Winterbottom is unafraid to expose the sordid details of Thompson's violent story. This is the first relatively mainstream American movie in recent memory which doesn't shy away from nudity, graphic violence, and whatever else is necessary to carry on its exploration of its adult themes, a welcome change to some of the half-assed puritanical suspense thrillers which never really pay off in any real, emotional way.

As a tense film noir, The Killer Inside Me's footing is less sure, its simply plotted tension often deflated by lengthy breaks for confusing plot explanation. One character, played by the otherwise excellent Elias Koteas, could be completely eliminated from the story without being missed. Instead he serves as a vague source of menace and exposition for both Ford and the audience, so much so that he's never onscreen with any other character in the piece. His involvement also spurs the film's atrocious, surrealistic ending, a literal conflagration fueled by someone's inclination to tie up all the loose ends a little too neatly for a movie which best dwells in the unknowable.

Even a full-length feature film can't adequately explain the glacial calm which Ford displays as he brutally murders his victims. The Killer Inside Me lays out the facts about Ford, allows you to see the world through his eyes, makes you an uncomfortable participant in his fetishistic sexual encounters, and won't let you leave when he indulges in his most savage tendencies. But still, you don't come any closer to understanding Ford, and maybe that's a good thing.

12 comments:

Kevin J. Olson said...

I'm usually a fan of the prolific, and often hit and miss, Michael Winterbottom, so I think I'll be checking it out once it hits theaters (or theater, as is the case here in Salem) in my area.

I also have been diggin' Affleck's performances as of late, and everything I've read about the film seems to align with what you so wonderfully convey here: great lead performance, shoddy pacing and superfluous exposition.

Still, as a huge fan of neo-noir stuff, I'll be checking this out.

Great review, Tony.

Tony Dayoub said...

Yeah, Kevin. Winterbottom is one of the more interesting directors out there. I like how prolific he is and the variety reflected in his choices. From sci fi to western, historical period drama to cutting edge concert films, he has always strived to do something fresh and unique. Fans like you and me know he can be hit-or-miss. But that is a hell of a lot more exciting than simply sticking to mainstream sensibilities.

Jason Bellamy said...

Tony: Nice job. Hokahey and I saw this over the weekend. I've been wrestling with it ever since and will try to make some sense of it in a review when I get the chance. I agree with your praise for the performances and that the violence works in its context. I also very much agree with this:

As a tense film noir, The Killer Inside Me's footing is less sure, its simply plotted tension often deflated by lengthy breaks for confusing plot explanation. One character, played by the otherwise excellent Elias Koteas, could be completely eliminated from the story without being missed. Instead he serves as a vague source of menace and exposition for both Ford and the audience, so much so that he's never onscreen with any other character in the piece. His involvement also spurs the film's atrocious, surrealistic ending, a literal conflagration fueled by someone's inclination to tie up all the loose ends a little too neatly for a movie which best dwells in the unknowable.

Yes! The film is well-made, thought-provoking, well-acted, etc. But it's also strangely flat, not very engaging on the whole, and the Koteas scenes are definitely redundant. I'm very glad I saw it -- it was always interesting being in that world. But from start to finish it always seemed to be lacking a certain something that I haven't yet figured out how to articulate.

Tony Dayoub said...

"Flat" is the perfect description, Jason. It's almost as if Winterbottom was aping a film noir rather than actually creating one.

Just speculating here, but what if Winterbottom was attempting to convey the flat manner in which a sociopath views the world. He fails at getting that across, but it'd be quite interesting and ambitious if that's what he was going for.

Mike Lippert said...

I haven't seen this yet but it's kind of funny, this is usually the kind of movie that splits people right down the middle between those who love and it those who hate it but almost every review I've read has been kind of indifferent saying it's well acted and what not but doesn't quite work. Even when I did coverage on the script last year I didn't quite know what to make of it but said to consider it because Michael Winterbottom would, as you say Tony, make something interesting reagrdless of whether it was a hit or a miss.

Hal said...

Great review!

Yeah, your thought on Elias Koteas' presence is right on the money. Whenever he was onscreen I was like, who is this character and why is he here?

Tony Dayoub said...

Mike, that's an interesting point. Movies like this do usually divide the audience, often a sure sign that they have something interesting to say. This film has that, but the majority of its audience are actually united in their opinion of Affleck's great performance and the unusual hollowness of the story.

Hal, that is exactly what I kept asking myself. I'm only half-kidding when I say I expected Koteas, who reminds me of De Niro in his mannerisms to begin with, to turn this portentous character into something akin to De Niro's Lou Cypher in ANGEL HEART.

J.D. said...

I'm also a big Winterbottom fan and have always thought of him as Britain's answer to Steven Soderbergh and both filmmakers seem to like dabble in many genres over the course of the career. And they also seem to crank 'em out in record time!

I've been really curious to see this film. I've read the book and found it to be very good and am intrigued to see how Winterbottom has translated to the screen. Thanks for this insightful review!

Tony Dayoub said...

I don't know, J.D. I love Winterbottom, but the comparison to Soderbergh may be a stretch. Sure, both are experimental with their choices. But Soderbergh is generally more succesful in achieving his aims.

Also, Soderbergh has a technical skill set which Winterbottom can't really match. Soderbergh shoots and cuts his own films; he has innovated the simultaneous VOD-DVD-theatrical release platform with his film BUBBLE.

Though I see where you're coming from, I'm not sure the comparison is apt. Which is really to say, don't walk in to THE KILLER INSIDE ME with Soderbergh-level expectations or it's bound to disappoint.

J.D. said...

I gotcha. I see what you mean. Winterbottom's style is much faster and looser for lack of a better description than Soderbergh's, 'tis true.

MrJeffery said...

thanks for the write up. i'm going to check it out. i think casey affleck is a good actor. loved assassination of j.j.

Anonymous said...

Hi, i actually read alot of reviews on the killer inside me. Some say he was a sociopath, but how can someone be one? Even if his housekeeper made it happen? If he was a totally normal being, one encounter like that wouldn't make him crazy. I thought you had to be born with it? Plus some people say that Lou is homosexual, which explains his lack of emotions with Joyce and Amy, killing them off quickly, and also taking pills to make him more heterosexual, so that Amy won't get disappointed. They also said that's why he gave Bob a back massage, lighted his cigar, and shared the same bedroom with him during that train ride. If that is true, why did he say i love you to Joyce repeatedly while punching her? What's the point? There was no one to show it to. Did he really love her? Did he kill because of his sickness? And why did Lou's sickness come back during which he met Joyce? Before she even spanked him, the book told us that Lou's sickness had came back. What's your explanation?