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Catching Up on 2010: Josh Reviews The Killer Inside Me

February 28th, 2011

In The Killer Inside Me, Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation of the novel by Jim Thompson, Casey Affleck stars as Texas sheriff’s deputy Lou Ford.  At first, he seems like the good-natured heroic main character of the film.  “Around here, if you’re not a man and a gentleman, you’re nothing,” Lou intones in a monologue that opens the film.  My initial reaction was that Lou was describing the way he tries to live his life — the importance of striving to be a gentleman.  The reality, as we quickly learn, is much darker.  Lou is certainly not a gentleman and barely even a human being.  His statement reflects his cold, blunt knowledge of that fact.

The Killer Inside Me is worth watching purely for the phenomenal lead performance of Casey Affleck.  I am continually amazed by Mr. Affleck’s insistence on taking on challenging, outside-of-the-mainstream roles, and also for his extraordinary versatility as an actor.  He can play straight comedy in the Ocean’s Eleven films, a heroic but conflicted lead character in Gone Baby Gone, and then the most horrible type of evil in this film.  It’s an extraordinary range for an actor to display, and with each film Mr. Affleck seems to get better and better.  In The Killer Inside Me, one can’t help but be captivated as Mr. Affleck reveals layer upon deeper layer of the cruel, horrible individual who Lou Ford really us.  It’s a raw, electrifying performance, and one from which you really can’t look away.

The rest of the film is a little more difficult to praise.  The film is outrageously violent, and there are several extremely gruesome and graphic depictions of Lou Ford’s violence towards women that verge on the nauseating.  I don’t have a strong stomach for violence in films, I will readily admit, and this film really pushed me to my limits.  It’s not that there is constant violence throughout the film — it’s more that there are several instances of intense, terrible violence.  In particular, one female character meets a shocking demise about of a third of the way into the film.  It’s a stunning moment — not only because I had expected that character to stick around for the rest of the film, but also because of the extraordinarily painful, extended, right-on-camera depiction of her death.  It’s really rough stuff.  I don’t think the violence is necessarily gratuitous — I do understand what Mr. Winterbottom was intending to accomplish — but it’s so tough to watch that in many ways those moments pull me right out of the story I’m watching unfold.

Though what really cripples the film, for me, is the loony left-turn that the narrative takes in the final ten-or-so minutes.  I’ve read some reviewers argue that, in those final scenes, we’re actually meant to be inside Lou’s head, and what we’re watching are his fevered fantasies.  That’s as good an explanation as any, because the gritty, grounded little movie I had been watching suddenly makes a sharp turn into La La Land over-the-top silliness in those final moments.  I haven’t read the original novel, so I can’t speak as to whether the ending is faithful to the source material, but for me, watching this movie, I though the ending was a complete failure.

I wrote above that The Killer Inside Me is worth watching purely for the lead performance of Casey Affleck, but that’s an oversimplification that overlooks the strong supporting cast.  Both Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson turn in terrific work as the two main women in Lou Ford’s life.  But are honest and real, and although they play two women who are hugely different in terms of background and personality, both bring a real live-wire energy to their performances.  I wonder why they’re not both this good in other films.  Maybe it’s the material that elevated their performances (whether as a result of her decisions or not, it certainly seems apparent that Kate Hudson is rarely given material this dark and complex to play, and neither is Ms. Alba), or perhaps the credit should go to the direction of Michael Winterbottom.  Either way, both Ms. Hudson and Ms. Alba are really terrific.  I was also very excited to see the great Ned Beatty (Lex Luthor’s sidekick Otis in the Richard Donner Superman films) as Chester Conway, the town’s powerful oil-man.  It’s a small role, but Mr. Beatty bites into it with relish.  He’s a terrific actor who, like the women I just mentioned, is also seldom given meaty parts to play.  It’s a great delight to see his work in this film.  Bill Pullman also has a small role as Billy Boy Walker, a figure who, for a brief moment, one might think will provide Lou’s salvation.  Mr. Pullman basically just has one long scene to play in the film, but he does a great job with his monologue.

I can’t really recommend The Killer Inside Me.  I suspect that a great many of you reading this, if you were to watch this film on DVD, would turn it off in disgust about twenty minutes in.  But for those of you with sturdy stomaches, there is a good deal to enjoy and respect in the film — most particularly Casey Affleck’s lead performance.  If you’re looking for a tough, dangerous film that is well-off the beaten path, then this is one you might want to sample.  For the rest of you, go rent Gone Baby Gone (a magnificent film that is a bit more mainstream) instead.

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