Synopsis: When he is asked to protect the son of a local prominent business from ruinous scandal a West Texas deputy sheriff is slowly unmasked as a psychotic killer.
I knew going in that The Killer Inside Me was likely to be an uncomfortable watch. On it’s release I had read snippets of articles discussing it’s approach to violence against women.
I was also intrigued to see how British indie darling Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo; Code 46; 24 Hour Party People; 9 Songs) would use an odd cast in a powerful drama about vicious misogyny.
Based on Jim Thompson’s 1952 novel of the same name, The Killer Inside Me chronicles the descent of mild mannered Sheriff’s Deputy Lou (Casey Affleck) into a psychotic killer who kills all those closest to him and anyone who crosses him. The two primary targets of his icy rage are a local prostitute Joyce (Jessica Alba) who is embroiled in a scandalous relationship with a local businessman’s son and subsequently Lou, and Lou’s girlfriend Amy (Kate Hudson) who suspects his infidelity.
The opening minutes of the film start innocently enough as Lou is dispatched to “take care” of Alba by asking her to leave town. On the drive he narrates in that flat nasally Casey Affleck voice the importance of being a gentleman in an old fashioned Texas town. Things quickly take a sharp and surprising dark, sado-sexual turn though as Lou beats Alba with a belt before engaging in consensual sex.
And that is how the rest of the movie goes for the most part; lots of graphic spanking, Casey Affleck mumbling in an almost impossible to understand way, and bursts of graphic violence, a couple of which will make the hardened movie watcher flinch. It was those two moments that drew the critical attention that surrounded the film on it’s release. On both occasions moments of potential joy turn to tragedy. It’s heartbreaking as a viewer to know they never see it coming. The ensuing violence is prolonged, visceral and you feel every punch, every crack, every blow. The proximity of the camera and brilliant use of sound made me want to reach in to the screen and intervene. It’s not often I find screen violence engaging in such an affecting way.
In fairness I can see why some would find it difficult to watch, or would see it as glorifying violence against women for the purpose of entertainment. Part of this I think is Casey Affleck’s brilliant performance. While he may mumble a lot, you don’t need to hear him particularly as his performance is almost entirely in those mellow Affleck eyes and cheeky smile. The pure joy that he exudes as he refuses to stop pummelling Jessica Alba’s face beyond recognition is as repulsive as it is utterly compelling. On balance I never felt that the violence was gratuitous to a point of being extraneous or out of context to the story.
Jessica Alba got a Razzie Nomination for her performance which seems rather harsh, although she seemed an odd casting choice. That said she had little to do with the role except a lot of dodgy sex with Casey Affleck and then take a brutal beating. Kate Hudson was also odd casting, although that may be my own prejudices based on recent previous film choices. She was actually pretty good and it was nice to see her in a different role where she wasn’t leaning up against Matthew McConnaughey in a rom-com poster. Maybe his recent McConnaissance which began about the same time forced her to take some darker roles as well. It reminded of how much I liked her all those years ago in Almost Famous.
It does struggle at times to be understood. I’m a Brit with American family and have spent much time on the other side of the pond. So my ear for regional US accents is pretty good, but I really struggled to pick up words and sentences as Casey Affleck’s usual quiet mumble was accentuated for his West Texas drawl. The slow pacing in the first half may also frustrate the more impatient viewer, but it never feels like it is dragging.
Finally the film is beautiful, making use of the fresh white t-shirts, dark blue jeans, stetsons, big old cars, white gloves and pretty dresses that you would expect of a 1950’s Texas town, punctuated with splatterings of blood and bile. Imagine Norman Rockwell painting to the sound of Pantera.
Conclusion: A difficult watch at times, but ultimately a film that should have been the focus of critical acclaim for Affleck’s brilliant performance rather than the issues of graphic misogyny.
Director: Michael Winterbottom – British indie darling who, like peer Danny Boyle, is adept at jumping genres. Likes a bit of controversy in his films, most notably 9 Songs which is somewhere between porn and a VH1 documentary.
Writers: John Curran (from the Jim Thompson novel) – known better for his directorial work like We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004) and Stone (2010), in which Ed Norton has cornrows. Yup. That was a thing.
Cast: Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Ned Beatty, Elias Koteas, Simon Baker, Bill Pullman, Tom Bower
- Katherine Heigl, Michelle Williams, Natalie Portman and Sienna Miller were all considered to play Amy Stanton
- Andrew Dominik was set to direct, and had Tom Cruise lined up to play Lou Ford. When Cruise dropped out, Dominik left the project – he felt he needed a big star actor to carry such a complex and disturbing film.
- Jessica Alba found that no one on the cast and crew would look her in the eye when she was in her full beaten-up make-up. The prosthetics were suitably graphic and off-putting that people were loath to talk to her.