MPI // 2010 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // October 4th, 2010
"A weed is a plant out of place. I find a hollyhock in my cornfield, and it's a weed. I find it in my yard, and it's a flower. You're in my yard."
Is the realistic depiction of violence against women inherently misogynist? Jim Thompson, legendary crime fiction writer of The Killer Inside Me, doesn't ask this question in his novel, but the thought is inescapable in the film adaptation from director Michael Winterbottom (9 Songs). It offers no clear answer to the question and, because of its shocking brutality, caused as much controversy as it did applause while on the festival circuit. I understand the trouble some people have had with it, though I disagree that the film sensationalizes or celebrates violence against women. In the book, those scenes are some of the most personal and disturbing scenes I have ever read. It would have done a major disservice to the novel for Winterbottom to soften these scenes for the film, but an even bigger disservice to the audience not to see that the mind of a monster is disgusting place to live.
Lou Ford (Casey Affleck, Gone Baby Gone), a deputy sheriff in Central City, TX, seems like a nice, polite boy, someone any girl would be happy to take home to Mother, but Lou has a secret he's kept hidden for years. He has "The Sickness," and when he lays eyes on Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba, Fantastic Four), a talky prostitute he's been ordered to run out of town, he feels those old feelings start but bubble up again. Their torrid, sadomasochistic affair ends in Joyce's murder and, to cover up what he's done, Ford knows he will have to kill again.
Jim Thompson wrote The Killer Inside Me in the first person from Lou Ford's perspective. Because we see through his eyes, we also reason with his fractured mind. Ford has a quiet, almost friendly voice that eases the reader into his world. It doesn't take long for his secret to come up, but even after it does, the voice hardly sounds crazy. Whether he's ordering eggs or beating someone into pulp, his emotions and reactions are consistent, and it's scary. Really scary, in fact, but not in a horror movie sense. It's the position Thompson puts his readers in that is scary. The writing is exhilarating, but the acts are horrific. His hands are our hands; his satisfaction is our satisfaction, It makes readers wonder about the dark side that resides in themselves and leaves a disturbingly uncomfortable feeling. To say, then, that Thompson hates women is misguided. I have no idea what the author actually thought, but I do know that Lou Ford sees women in only one way, as toys for his amusement. He may not want to come around and admit his deep hatred for them, but his utter disdain is perfectly clear.
John Curran's shockingly faithful script delivers the same feeling of personal disgust. The dialog is almost verbatim from the book, and Lou's monologues, perfectly spoken by Affleck, draw us quickly into the darkness of Central City. The director, however, in the natural and necessary switch into the third person, complicates the original question greatly. Our imaginations can mute the violence that Thompson describes, but short of covering our eyes, there's nothing we can do to hide from Lou's brutality. Winterbottom forces us to watch some of the most disturbing abuse ever committed to film. The scenes are unflinching, brutal, and infuriating, as it should be, because the violence in The Killer Inside Me actually means something. Unlike in some big-budget action flick with a mountain of nameless bodies at the end, the victims here have names and people who love them. Lou's brutality effects the town beyond the slain. It's designed to make you sick and it does just that. I fear the person not disturbed by the violence in this film.
While it's true that a lot of the effectiveness of The Killer Inside Me comes from Winterbottom's superb direction, the heart of the film lies in the ferocious performance of Casey Affleck. In a scene near the start of the film, before he has committed any atrocity, he has a talk with Joe Rothman (Elias Koteas, The Thin Red Line), the local union head, about the odd circumstances surrounding the death of Lou's brother in a construction "accident." Lou is well aware of what happened, and has a revenge plan in place. He can't show his hand, though, so plays the dummy that most already take him for. As Rothman presses him on the subject, Lou gets progressively more agitated, but outwardly stays completely steady. Affleck looks like he's about to jump out of his skin at the guy. He doesn't look angry; he looks insane. As the film moves on, Casey Affleck and Lou Ford become one. It's a tightly controlled display of acting skill that leaps from baby-faced nice guy to ice-cold monster in the time it takes to clench his jaw. This is an iconic performance, one that Affleck will and should be remembered for. For me, it will be some time until I can look at the actor and not see Lou Ford. Honestly, not a great feeling.
The rest of the cast do just fine, but the characters are all somewhat strange. It's a stellar group that includes, on top of those already mentioned, Kate Hudson (The Skeleton Key), Bill Pullman (The Last Seduction), Simon Baker (The Mentalist), and Ned Beatty (Superman). Because our impressions of them come through Lou, there are big pieces missing from their personalities. Each person takes an adversarial role to Lou and, good-natured as some of them are, they are Lou's antagonists. Alba and Hudson play types more than people, but when women aren't people to your main character, it can be no other way. He sees them as shallow and shrill, so that's what they are. The same is true for the men as well, but he has a basic respect for their humanity, so is much more humane in his dealings with them. This is how it works in the book, as well, and I'd have it no other way.
Winterbottom's direction is polished and very effective. He captures both the wide open expanses of central Texas and the confining nature of the city. Much of the film is understated, but there are scenes of operatic beauty that contrast beautifully with the matter-of-fact storytelling. Almost nothing gets excluded in the transfer from novel to film. Those small things that have been excised would have served to give more humanity to Lou, further solidifying the director's intent to make the character utterly irredeemable.
The DVD of The Killer Inside Me is technically very solid, but is sadly lacking in meaningful extras. The image looks great, with inky blacks and bright, saturated colors. It's as good as a standard definition transfer of the film will get. The surround sound is also quite good, with a full range of effects in all channels. The sound of the violence is meaty and gross, adding a level of disgust to the scenes. The soundtrack, featuring an original score by Melissa Parmenter alongside a collection of blues and Texas swing (including the scarily appropriate and certainly intentional use of "Shame on You," a great swing number by popular '50s star Spade Cooley, who was convicted of beating his wife to death in 1961), is nice and strong, with good spatial separation all around. All we have in the way of supplements, however, are three very brief so-called featurettes with Affleck, Hudson, and Alba each spending all of ninety seconds discussing the film. Given that, after their festival showings, the director and stars in attendance had to defend the film from certain disgusted members of the audience, it would seem only natural to have similar discussions on the disc. These three pieces of fluff is all we get, however, maybe the Blu-ray will have more.
I understand the misogyny charges, especially in light of how many cheesecake-style shots of Jessica Alba that Winterbottom shows after her murder. It leaves you with a really icky feeling, but I firmly believe that was the aim.
There are people who will absolutely loathe The Killer Inside Me, and maybe for good reason, but that doesn't change the fact that the film is a phenomenal adaptation of one of the most disturbing crime novels ever written and one of the very best films of 2010.
Now I feel guilty.
Review content copyright © 2010 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R