The Killer Inside Me, based on the novel by pulp crime novelist Jim Thompson, had its debut at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival where it was instantly met with controversy concerning the violent nature of its protagonist played with crazed perfection by Casey Affleck. The violence in question drew comparisons to a head-beating via fire extinguisher scene in Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible* and controversy began to brew conjuring memories of Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Well, as often is the case, the brew ha-ha is unwarranted and ill-conceived. Even better, this film is quite good.
Set in West Texas during the early 1950s, the film begins quite innocently, but is quick to turn the corner. Deputy Lou Ford (Affleck) is sent to deal with Joyce (Jessica Alba), a prostitute that’s moved into town, and he’s been asked to see she makes her way out of town. Upon meeting her, the two begin a secretive affair built primarily around a lack of self esteem and rough sex. However, as his sexual relationship with Joyce heats up, memories of an abusive childhood come to the surface culminating in a revenge plot that will end in a double-murder as the exploration of a cold-hearted killer unfolds.
In overly-excited corners, ready to hop on director Michael Winterbottom’s case, you’ll get questions asking why he would make this movie, or why anyone would want to see it based on the ultra-violent nature of the protagonist? Strangely, these people probably aren’t looking at the character and asking themselves why is he like this? Winterbottom’s film isn’t out to titillate you and get you excited about the prospect of seeing someone’s face bashed in. It’s an exploration of the after effects of abuse, the hurt people cause to others (sometimes unknowingly) and one of the many reasons someone may turn into a sociopath.
Affleck delivers a performance worthy of absolute recognition. Lou Ford isn’t an over-the-top Hollywood-style character, he’s got a “gee whiz” kind of personality and while in public he appears to simply go about his business. He’s got a relaxed approach about most everything he does and certainly this is one of the reasons the violence he inflicts is so jarring. It’s one thing to see physical emotion from a character when they’re killing someone in a movie, but to see a stone-faced glare is something entirely different. However, this isn’t to say Lou is without emotion. In fact it’s quite the opposite, which is the reason the scenes involving women are so much more violent than those involving men.
Affleck embodies Lou Ford with outward honesty and inward cruelty. He’s a character that says he’s “got a foot on both sides of the fence” and he’s all the more fascinating for it. To my disappointment, Affleck’s performance is likely to be overlooked as the violence in the film is sure to take center stage. Especially the violence against women. Yes, there is a certain level of misogyny running through the film, but it comes as a result of the character and his experiences. This isn’t a film about hating women and it isn’t a celebration of violence. To that point, anyone who takes a morbid fascination in the pain Lou doles out should take a look at what side of the fence they’re standing on.
Starring alongside Affleck are Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson as the two main ladies of the feature. Simon Baker plays a detective investigating the growing number of murders in the small town and Elias Koteas plays a rather chatty union boss whose service to the story seems to be as more of an instigator than a real character. Probably the best supporting performance comes from Tom Bower as Sheriff Bob Maples, a rather innocent and typical country bumpkin, small town sheriff that’s easy to sympathize with.
For the most part I enjoyed The Killer Inside Me as a fascinating character study with a fantastic performance from Casey Affleck, who continues to prove he’s worthy of the big time if only he’d get cast in more roles. There is a bit of a herky-jerky start to the picture, with little character building before Lou goes a bit crazy, but once things are moving it works quite well.
* The comparison to the head-beating in Irreversible is entirely unwarranted. The scene in question in The Killer Inside Me is child’s play when compared to the gut-wrenching sequence in Noe’s feature. Primarily because the majority of the violence in this movie happens off screen, all you see are the after effects, even though some journalists are misreporting the contrary.