Film Review: The Killer Inside Me

Director: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba

In 1952 Jim Thompson penned the book The Killer Inside Me from the perspective of a serial killer called Lou Ford. It was proclaimed as one of the best noir stories ever written. Shocking in its description of violence towards women, the book, and now the film, questions how such propensity is the fabric of human nature.

After a stylistic title sequence, we arrive in the 1950s; Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is the deputy-sheriff of a small town in Texas. He is kind, generous but has slight arrogance about him. Lou has been assigned the task of coercing prostitute Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba) out of the town. Instead he is drawn into a scheme with Joyce to blackmail local oil tycoon Chester Connway (Ned Beatty). Then without warning Lou’s latent sexual aggression awakens to damage everyone he holds close.

The Killer Inside Me has already been labelled ‘misogynistic’ by some. One scene gaining infamy centres on the domestic beating of Joyce. It creates a sense of un-cleanliness in the viewer, though director Michael Winterbottom refuses to shy away from the moment.

Casey Affleck is chilling as Lou Ford; you could say he is a descendant of Robert Ford. He handles the duality of this character very well. On the outside he’s a well mannered lawman, often dressed in pure white, you would never suspect that deep down he is rotten to the core.

But the two standouts are Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba. Their roles are challenging, mentally and physically, due the desires of their characters. Both have sadomasochistic tendencies that ensure the unflinching sex scenes instil real meaning. Somehow even though Ford beats them half to death, they still love him and, perhaps even more surprisingly, he loves them.

Costume design by Lynette Meyer encourages Lou Ford’s position of authority. In his cowboy hat, white shirt, tie and police badge, Ford is supposed to help the local town, yet is so self-absorbed he goes against everything the badge is supposed to represent. The two women in his life are dressed in curiously bright clothing suggesting a surreal, dream-like atmosphere. This serves to reflect Ford’s own warped perspective on their relationship.

For all its qualities, The Killer Inside Me fails in plotting and tone. The screenplay seems to be on fast-forward, desperate to rush straight to the sex and violence. There is no backstory, no hint of why Fry became the evil man he did. If there was more time spent fleshing out his character, the film would have been a more gratifying experience.

Once the blackmail plot gets underway there is a move away from explicit violence, yet some viewers may struggle to stay with it, as the narrative just isn’t strong enough to be compelling. However tone lets things down most. The film starts as a serious psychological thriller then segues into black comedy with odd, contradictory music surrounding the tragedy.

The Killer Inside Me is a well made and well acted piece of pulp fiction, but ruined by a jarring tone that contradicts the violent scenes of domestic abuse. Developing into an uncomfortable mix of Chinatown and Henry: Portrait Of a Serial Killer, it is too uneven to be convincing.

© 2010 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.