Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Killer Inside Me

Director: Michael Winterbottom
Staring: Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba & Kate Hudson

An adaptation of Jim Thompson’s noir, serial killer classic which works well initially as a noir but feels somewhat hollow overall and features some uncomfortable, if message driven, violence.

Michael Winterbottom has built a career out making films that cover challenging subject matters, court controversy and span genres and his latest, The Killer Inside Me, is yet another film that feels in keeping with the choices Winterbottom has made in his career, is an adaptation of the Jim Thompson novel. However, whilst the novel did depict a bleak and violent picture of the life and mindset of a sociopath, Winterbottom’s adaption feels emotionally hollow making its violence more disturbing, its characters unsympathetic and its climax falls flat.

Lou Ford (Affleck) is a deputy sheriff in a small Texas town in 1950s America. Lou may seem quiet and unthreatening to some but beneath the surface he has violent impulses brought to the fore after an affair with a prostitute named Joyce (Alba) leads to the pair plotting a blackmail attempt against the son of a rich developer leaving one person dead and Joyce comatose. With no evidence pointing implicitly at Lou, he continues his job as the deputy but those suspicious of him lead him towards more acts of violence to hide his guilt including towards his fiancée Amy (Hudson) and the truth about his sociopathic nature threatening to come ever closer to being revealed to the townsfolk.

Considered to be one of the best serial killer POV novels, The Killer Inside Me was a disturbing story of a sociopath with heavy noir elements. All of this is present in the film adaptation too but Winterbottom’s representation of them vary in success though always provoke strong emotional responses. As a noir, the first half of the film works very well with most of its action occurring at night, a first person narration from Affleck as Ford, femme fatales, blackmail and murder though as Ford’s predicament begins to unravel and the lengths he needs to resort to, to cover up his initial acts of murder and violence and allay the suspicions of those around him and the noir elements begin to drop away as events lead into the day. The move from night to day and the steady pace at which events spiral out of the control of Ford is highlighted in a line of dialogue early in the film where the town Sheriff remarks that it is lightest before it gets dark so while the representation of this phrase is evident in events that come later, the actions of the characters within the story begin to stretch credulity especially in the film’s climax. Another aspect of The Killer Inside Me that has gained attention is the level of violence, particularly towards its female characters. The violence is disturbing. It is debateable whether the level of violence was necessary or justified but it’s lack of glamour as either way it generates hatred for Ford and his view of women which is, likely, the point but it is uncomfortable viewing. While this also highlights the fact that the story is told from Ford’s point of view with his narration sometimes at odds with what is occurring on screen and while this sometimes portrays his emotional disconnection from his acts it also leaves the film feeling emotionally hollow too with other characters leaving no lasting impressions unless they are subjected to violence.

The Killer Inside Me revolves around a single role and performance, fortunately the film benefits from strong casting in that role. Casey Affleck delivers an often impressive performance in the role of Lou Ford building on a similar performance he delivered as Robert Ford in The Assassination of Jesse James in his portrayal with both being men repressing anger and violent impulses leading others to underestimate them. The role of Lou Ford is certainly a more disturbing character than that of Robert Ford and Affleck’s performance is certainly filled with more subtle gestures with him able to deliver a performance that shows emotion yet feels appropriately faked that shows the character’s true detachment underneath the façade he show to others. Other roles in the film are less developed than Affleck’s performance as Ford due to them being seen through the eyes of Ford. Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson are generally fine as the two women who love Ford and suffer most from his impulses but they, and other characters, are generally ciphers with there motivations for sticking by Ford left unexplored though, because of the level of violence directed against some characters, sympathy can be found for the female characters at least.

Overall, what begins as film noir soon becomes less appealing and enjoyable as it progresses. The violence in the film, while not glamorised and intentionally depicted to disturb, is hard to watch and highlights the lack of development of characters other than the lead role since it takes such violence to generate sympathy for those characters at all. Affleck does deliver a disturbing performance as Ford but the film, like its lead character, is too emotionally detached leaving the film with little to attract repeat viewings.

Rating: 2/5