The Killer Inside of Me (Winterbottom, 2010)

-Originally published for EInsiders.com

On the surface, deputy sheriff Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) walks and talks just like everybody else in his 1950’s West Texas town. Whether he’s politely nodding to female passerby’s or diligently listening to his boss’s instructions, Lou is a quiet and unassuming presence. Early on in Michael Winterbottom’s brutal The Killer Inside Me, Lou is ordered out to the local prostitute’s house to run her out of town by all means necessary. But after a tussle with Joyce (Jessica Alba), Ford instantly crosses the boundaries of law and order, sanity and insanity, violently pushing the woman to the bed and spanking her with his belt. This altercation triggers something terrible in the young man, and Lou proceeds to have rough sex with Joyce. Even more problematic, Joyce appears to enjoy it just as much as Lou does, and this interaction begins a torrid love affair between these two sides of the law.

The tonally schizophrenic opening sequence establishes Lou as a wolf in sheep’s clothing and his psychologically disturbed world a disjointed nightmare. As the film progresses, Lou becomes a diabolical anti-hero who succumbs to violence at the drop of a hat. After developing a powerful sexual relationship with Joyce, Lou gets embroiled in a blackmail scheme that turns deadly. Except he’s not the victim but the ferocious puppeteer cutting off loose ends with keen precision. Why? We’re never quite sure. Maybe Lou kills and maims to simply to see if he can get away with it. The players involved, including a corrupt businessman (Ned Beatty), his lug of son, and a brother who died a mysterious death years ago, don’t offer any indication of Lou’s motivations. Throw in a shady union boss (Elias Koteas) who spots Lou’s dark streak early on and his Suzy-homemaker girlfriend Amy (Kate Hudson), and you’ve a Noir-infused web producing many casualties both guilty and innocent.

Adapted from Jim Thompson’s notoriously violent novel, Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me sees Lou as a murderous enigma, a force of inexplicable violence that expands his brutality with each narrative complication and offense. Lou’s deadly motivations are purposefully obscure, even as Winterbottom injects scattered traumatic flashbacks in an attempt to establish his tainted character. This lack of explanation has caused some critics to label Lou a “fascinating” character, an unsolvable cinematic devil for the ages. But Affleck and Winterbottom’s creation is more ugly and indulgent than fascinating. The murder scenes are as bad as advertised and extremely difficult to watch, not simply because of the elongated suffering the victims endure or the temporal elaboration of the acts themselves, but because they represent the thoughtless lack of subtext perpetrated by the filmmakers. As Lou kicks one character to death, his ridiculous apologies offering no respite, and the film almost becomes his accomplice.

Stylistically, The Killer Inside Me constructs a surreal cross between Noir and Horror, Winterbottom vibrantly painting each scene with extreme hues and contrasting flashes of light and darkness. Lou traverses this intricate terrain with a sly smirk and nine lives from the law, a group of drunks and imbeciles that can’t put the pieces together even though the bodies keep stacking at Lou’s door. The film ebbs and flows entirely with Lou’s coverups, then in a ludicrous twist of events, The Killer Inside Me ends in a bloody, explosive finale that could be one of the most inane endings in film history. Part cop out, part offensive allegory, the finale becomes just another ambiguous and pointless flight of violent fancy from a film that’s spent two hours torturing its characters and audience.

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4 thoughts on “The Killer Inside of Me (Winterbottom, 2010)

  1. The Killer Inside Me is one of the best profiles of and looks inside the mind of a socio-/psychopath that I’ve seen. Yes, it’s tough going in a few of the scenes (and the murder of the high school boy — oddly off screen, unlike that of the two women — does beggar believability. But this is still an extremely strong film in many ways. I would urge cineasts to see it. I found the end both juicily melodramatic and quite appropriate for all the characters involved. Your review, Glenn, at least finds some good things about the film — unlike many other critics who simply dismissed it.

  2. Hey Jim – thanks for your comments. I agree that the film is a must see, but only for the hardcore cinephiles out there. I take great issue with the way Affleck’s actions are given very little moral boundaries. I realize this is the filmmakers intentions, but it just seemed to willy nilly for me. My real issue comes with the ending, which i found almost insultingly bad and inert. But, I try and never dismiss a movie off hand simply because I respond negatively to it. I will watch this again when it’s released on Blu-ray to make sure of my opinion.

  3. The Ford character is not so much a murderous enigma with obscure motivations as someone who is truly socio- and psychopathic. He kills only to cement his own fortunes and/or to save himself. Whatever he perceives that he wants and/or needs, he then gains by whatever means necessary. HIS life is the only thing that matters: A true narcissist — and one of the scarier examples of this that the screen has given us. His running narrative, which starts out homey and friendly (and interestingly enough never leaves that mode, even when his actions are at their most horrible) is a wonderful and frightening example of the mind of a man like this.

    We get additional clues to why someone this horrible exists in flashbacks and Ford’s remembrances that the found photographs bring on. This may be a bit cheap on Winterbottom’s part (though the director handles all this well enough), and while it does not come close to fully explaining the Ford character’s enigma, it does show a person produced by some strange combination of nature and nurture — which it probably the most explanation we will ever get. Until some cheap, fast and complete form of DNA “reading” is available.

    We know people like Ford exist because the daily news is full of them and the media takes such pleasure in telling their stories. What I liked best about the film, melodramatic as it was (and as I suspect is Thompson’s novel) is how it puts us INSIDE this man’s thinking process. How he uses “love,” even at the last moment in a way that only a complete narcissistic sociopath could manage.

    As to the violence in the film, hearing how truly awful it was evidently prepared me for it and made it seem less so. It was awful, all right. But it also seemed somehow part and parcel of the Alba character’s need for punishment (and to some extent that of the woman played by Hudson), though by the second murder of a female, Ford appears to have learned how to do it more quickly, efficiently and completely. Ugh. I wouldn’t want to see many movies like this, but I am somehow grateful this one existed.

  4. Thanks for the further explanation, Jim. I value your thoughts, but I didn’t see the kind of nuanced depth in the film that you obviously do. And I didn’t think the violence was in any way connected to the female character’s need for punishment. Alba likes the get slapped around a bit, but I can’t see the rationalized jump to murder as a continuation of the punishment. It all seems too convenient. But like I said, I’m willing to give it another chance (I will suffer mightily for it), especially considering your impassioned thoughts.

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