Jim Thompson’s ‘The Killer Inside Me‘ is widely regarded as one of the seminal works of first-person-narrated-serial-killer type book, written with such harrowing inside knowledge and conviction you fear the author may actually be a psychopath themselves. Once very living, now rather dead legend Stanley Kubrick, for better or worse, described it as the most chilling and believable first person account of a criminally warped mind he’d ever read. Indeed, the novel still resonates with a deeply unsettling clarity even now, some fifty years since its initial publication. Barring Burt Kennedy’s 1976 version, no one has successfully managed to put this work of psycho sexual noir on to the screen. Hello, 2010, Hello, Michael Winterbottom.
Straight off the bat it’s pretty clear that this is a dream project for Winterbottom. A man no stranger to controversy with his films (see 9 Songs) and also possessing a deft touch at handling narrative and character (see 24 Hour Party People). The movie is narrated by Lou Ford (Casey Affleck…being scary as shit), a deputy sheriff in a small Texan town. He’s asked to run local prostitute, Joyce (Jessica Alba), out of town. Needless to say, bad things happen. Indeed, their meeting is the catalyst that ends up unleashing a whole host of Ford’s crazy, crazy, crazy all over the town.
The film manages a very tricky balancing act, it successfully shows the crooked world view of a criminally disturbed individual, but also shows his actions impacting on a real tangible world, to real tangible people, with fragile lives. This is in part down to Winterbottom’s excellent direction and cinematography; the lights all seem a little too bright and the dark a little too dark. He really manages to capture and sustain a thick atmosphere of noir dread.
What really, really pulls the movie along is the cast of actors assembled, and the performances they bring. Affleck’s always been a pretty creepy actor…he just has a sort of constant stock blankness over his face at all times, that is clearly masking a fevered intelligence working behind it. He possess an otherworldly…something…that is simultaneously supremely captivated and extremely uncomfortable to watch. In the role of Ford he takes this creepy talent of his a transatlantic flight further than anything he has done prior. Jessica Alba plays Joyce with such a naïve, confused fragility that it is not only totally believable that this is indeed a life that Ford is about to completely destroy, but also utterly heartbreaking. The same can be said for Kate Hudson’s turn as Amy, Ford’s potential wife to be. She’s totally in love with this man, and exudes such an effortless likeability and small town charm, that Ford’s terrible deeds strike that little bit harder against the audience, as we watch with increasing awareness that her fate was sealed the moment she met this man that she blindly walks along with.
Now seems to be an ideal moment to bring up the controversies that have coiled around this film. The sequences that sparked the debate, which I won’t go into, have been labeled as misogynistic and putrid by some. Indeed, it’s understandable why; the women are subjected not only to Ford’s relentless anger but also the cameras total fixation on every little detail. However, to simply pass of these scenes as misogynistic seems over-zealous. They certainly don’t ruin what is a near faultless piece of cinema, sure they make it a little harder to bear…but that’s ok. This is a dark, unsettling film about a dark, unsettling character doing dark and unsettling things to people that do not deserve what becomes of them. It’s also brooding, atmospheric, brilliantly played and extremely compelling.
You may not want to see it again, but you’ll be glad you saw it once.