By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 3, 2010)
There have been a number of good films adapted from pulp writer Jim Thompson’s novels and short stories. Neo-noirs like The Getaway, Coup de Torchon, The Grifters, After Dark My Sweet, and This World then the Fireworks reveled convincingly in the author’s trademark milieu of tortured, brooding characters and dirty double dealings.
Unfortunately, as much as I was rooting for it, The Killer Inside Me is not destined to be held up amongst the aforementioned. Filmed once before in 1972 (with Stacey Keach in the lead), it’s a nasty bit of Texas noir about a sheriff’s deputy (played in 2010 by Casey Affleck) who leads the proverbial “double life”-with a dark side much darker than most.
Affleck plays Lou Ford, a taciturn, well-mannered 1950s small town lawman whose gaze always appears to be fixated on an indeterminate point just beyond your shoulder. When he is assigned to personally deliver an “out of town by sundown” ultimatum from the sheriff’s office to a prostitute (Jessica Alba), he learns quickly that this young lady is not easily intimidated. In fact, she instigates what escalates into a slapping contest between the two. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, we’re witnessing what could be the beginning of a beautiful sadomasochistic relationship.
This is our first inkling of what may be lurking beneath Lou’s robotic politeness and “yes ma’am, no ma’am” countenance. In accordance with Film Noir Rules and Regulations, the lovers are soon embroiled in a complicated blackmail scheme. Yes-he is a bad, bad deputy; not to mention that he’s already fooling around on his sweet-natured fiancée (played by a virtually unrecognizable Kate Hudson). His transgressions get worse. Much, much worse (take a moment to ponder the film’s title). Corpses accumulate.
I can’t quite put my finger on why this film didn’t work for me. Director Michael Winterbottom is no slouch; he has demonstrated a talent for effortless genre-hopping with notable films like 24 Hour Party People, Code 46, Tristram Shandy and The Road to Guantanamo. Maybe it was the “near-miss” vibe of the film’s essential genre elements. He catches the look of a small west Texas town circa 1950, but not necessarily the flavor; it’s too glossy, perhaps too “stagey”.
John Curran’s screenplay (with additional writing credits to the director) is adequate, but not spectacular (we’re not talking Chinatown here). It’s a great cast; with good supporting players like Ned Beatty, Elias Koteas, Simon Baker and Bill Pullman, but they are window-dressed as noir archetypes, given nothing substantive to do with their characters. Also, everyone mumbles their lines-I couldn’t follow a good portion of the dialog (“What?”). In particular, I found Affleck’s vocal inflection (a peculiar, reedy croak) to be annoying.
There has been some controversy regarding the violence in the film; viewers are subjected to not one, but two uncompromisingly brutal scenes where a female character is punched, kicked and stomped to death. There are no artful cutaways; it is grisly, and hard to stomach.
Now, one could argue that murder is a horrible act, and should not be sugar-coated or glorified; after all this is a film about a psychotic killer (Goodfellas had some of the most sickening violence I’ve ever seen on screen, but in the context of the world that its characters live in, it “worked”). But in this case, it feels gratuitous, especially since I can’t really say that the film surrounding those scenes redeemed their inclusion in any major way. I’ve seen this movie before (think American Psycho, The Stepfather, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) Speaking for myself, I think I’ve had my lifetime quota.