MPI // 2010 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // September 28th, 2010
"The trouble with growing up in a small town is everybody thinks they know who you are."
I haven't read Jim Thompson's novel, The Killer Inside Me, but I wish I had before I saw the film. If I had, I might have seen The Killer Inside Me as a valid realization of a novel that, from what I've read about it, would be difficult to adapt. Perhaps I would have seen it as a bad riff on a superior source. Frankly, either of these reactions would preferable to what I did feel:
That's an unfortunate reaction to any film, but it's almost worse with this one. Michael Winterbottom's film seems to have been made to elicit strong reactions, a handsomely produced, polarizing bit of folk art exploitation.
The Killer Inside Me gives us the story of Lou Ford (Casey Affleck, Gone Baby Gone), a cop in small-town Texas circa the late '50s who has...well, a killer inside him. He's lived in this town his entire life, he's well-respected, but he's a psychopath, and -- as we learn from a couple of flashbacks -- he always has been.
Trouble comes in the form of pretty prostitute Joyce (Jessica Alba, Good Luck Chuck) who brings out the beast in Lou, and she falls for him despite his violent ways -- or perhaps because of them. Unfortunately, like most movie prostitutes who fall for respectable citizens with dark souls, she fails to see the folly of it all, and a sketchy and convoluted scheme-for-money involving the town's richest family proves to be her undoing.
But it's only the beginning for Lou who, beast unsheathed, finds himself investigating a double homicide -- the very crime he committed. Since his boss, the sheriff (Tom Bower, North Country), thinks of Lou as a son, he seems pretty safe, but an inspector from out of town (Simon Baker, Red Planet) thinks he has Lou's number. In addition, Lou's respectable girlfriend (Kate Hudson, Almost Famous) is starting to feel that something's wrong, although she's not completely opposed to her man's newfound interest in rough sex.
The story is told from Lou's point of view -- replete with stylized, folksy narration -- but it's Winterbottom's point of view that's problematic. The film is somehow off, tonally, and it's all very remote. Affleck works hard, but Lou's just not that interesting a character -- he's charming and facile, except when he's not, and then he's a methodically murderous goon. But there's no core to this character, and since he's the focus, ultimately, there's no real core to the film, either. There's lots of style here -- beginning with the '60's pulpy-looking credit sequence scored to a rendition of "Fever" by Little Willie John -- but a disappointing lack of substance.
Like Sissy Spacek's Holly in Terrence Malik's Badlands, Lou is an unreliable narrator, but unlike Holly, Lou's words aren't fancifully romantic renderings. Lou tells us the story using clichés and platitudes, his glib patter counterpointing the ugliness of the whole thing.
Unfortunately, it's the ugliness that's the talking point here. The Killer Inside Me features a pair of ghastly and lurid scenes in which violence is inflicted on women. It seems odd, decades after the heyday of slasher-chic, to comment on violence against women in a film, but the violent scenes here aren't of the cartoon-and-pick-axe variety. These scenes are just brutal and grotesque, drawn-out and horrible. They're necessary to the story, but they unfortunately, they end up becoming the story.
Affleck plays Lou with what might be described as a bland intensity, keeping the character on an even keel that is alternately chilling and boring. Alba and Hudson barely register as Lou's ladies, but Bower is touching as the sheriff, and Ned Beatty (Network) offers a nice turn in a small role as the rich guy. The film feels long at 109 minutes, but it also feels incomplete, as though a number of plot points have been short-shrifted.
But the biggest problem here is that it's just not as involving as it should be. It's a thriller without thrills, and when characters are in danger, the little part of you that wants to yell "Watch Out!" is curiously silent. Since we really don't connect to anyone, The Killer Inside Me is a dispassionate viewing experience. We watch everything unfold, and all the characters go through their paces, and then it's over -- save for a final scene so absolutely miserable in so many ways.
The Blu-ray from MPI gets the job done, but like the film, it's nothing to get excited about. The 1080p image is overall clear and reasonably film-like, but it's flat. The already muted visuals just kind of sit there; there's little in the way of depth. Audio is clear but unexceptional. Supplements consist of interviews with Affleck, Alba, and Hudson that are really IFC promotional pieces.
The Killer Inside Me should have been a compelling, exciting modern noir. Instead, it's just a forgettable little quasi-thriller that's set apart by some disturbing violence.
Guilty of not living up to its potential.
Review content copyright © 2010 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R