First off, let the Nerd assure you that the rumors are true: The Killer Inside Me has some truly fucked up scenes of women being mercilessly beaten. That shit was so shocking and intense that some old ladies walked out of the screening I attended this afternoon, to which I said good fucking riddance because the inconsiderate hags were whispering to each other the whole fucking film (people say teenagers have the worst movie theater etiquette but in the Nerd’s experience the biggest talkers are usually oldsters – greatest generation my ass). But if you’re strong of stomach I think Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation of Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me is easily one of the most unique experiences you can currently have at the movie theater.
If you’re unfamiliar with Jim Thompson’s no-shit classic novel, let the Nerd get your ass up to speed. Lou Ford (the always great Casey Affleck) knows how to charm and disarm, and as a sheriff in West Texas such skills are very much required. But beneath his folksy aw-shucks veneer lies a sadistic streak as big as Texas itself. For the past few months he’s been fucking Joyce (Jessica Alba), the town whore who likes taking a few smacks during sex as much Lou himself likes to dish out said licks. Also fucking Joyce is Elmer Conway, son of local big-wig Chester Conway (Ned Beatty). Chester fears besmirchifying of the family name and asks Ford to give her a pay-off then force her to leave town. But seeing how Lou has been looking to get revenge against Chester Conway for many years, he takes it upon himself to do some nasty murderifying instead. Next thing you know Lou is trying to keep his head above water and one step ahead of his own department, using his cunning and willingness to kill to keep himself in the clear.
If you’ve read the book you’ll recall that though the story is grim as hell, the way it’s told makes the proceedings fairly hilarious in an extremely dark way. Lou’s twisted, unreliable narration of the story makes for many funny moments, from the way he pretends to be a yokel just to aggravate people to even the way he describes much of the violence he perpetrates. The film has retained some of the book’s prose by occasionally having Lou narrate his thoughts from time-to-time, but the funny moments are not in great supply (but what’s there is choice, to paraphrase Spencer Tracy). The unreliability of Lou’s account of the film’s events doesn’t really come into play until the final stretch of the film, where certain events are left to interpretation in a way similar to the climax of Taxi Driver, but otherwise the film is pretty straight-forward. But though some major charms of the book are missing in the adaptation, it’d be a tall order for a director as skilled as Michael Winterbottom (the Steven Soderbergh of the U.K.) to fuck up a main character and a plot this juicy – especially considering the cast he’s assembled.
The 1950’s period details are extremely specific with nary a misstep from the cars down to coffee cups. The storytelling finds an off-beat balance between nasty noir thriller and sobering character study, Winterbottom managing to make both elements mesh in unobtrusive ways. Not to go on about the controversy-charged women-beating scenes, but I think the scenes bring this adaptation to a more interesting place than most noirs. It’s often too easy to identify with antiheroes, the crime genre packed to the gills with great mass-murderers that we all love, from Tony Soprano to practically every character Quentin Tarantino has ever placed on screen. But by having the realities of just how cold-blooded Lou Ford is thrust upon the audience fairly early in the film, the audience is placed in a more precarious place than your normal noir thriller. I mean, we’ve seen antiheroes do some pretty despicable things, but rarely does a film ask us to identify with someone who enacts this kind of violence on a woman particularly.
But while such scenes bring the movie into a scarier territory than we’re accustomed to, it also ensures that this probably won’t have a permanent place many folks’ DVD shelves. It’s interesting that in many ways this would be the type of movie that I would want to revisit numerous times, but just the memory of those scenes would probably give me pause. To bring up Taxi Driver once again, I’m reminded of when I heard that originally Paul Schrader’s script described all the people that Travis Bickle gunned down in the film as being black. His racism is already alluded to strongly in the film, but though Scorsese keeping that detail a part of the film might have made the film even more inflammatory and possibly (to be sacrilegious) even greater than it already is, I doubt the film would be as culturally resonant as it is today (I doubt Bickle posters would be on the walls of any dorm rooms today, that’s for fucking sure).
Whether such a pulpy thriller can support the infamous violent scenes is up to the individual (I think the film pulls them off), but there is no getting around the fucking brilliance of Casey Affleck’s fantastic turn as Lou. With this, Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford Affleck has proved himself to be one of the most ambitious and exciting actors working today. That his character can do the things he does in this film and still make you (or at least the sick bastard that is me, anyway) hope he can get away is a testament to the charm and commitment he brings to the tricky role.
The Killer Inside Me will easily fit next to the past fine adaptations of Thompson’s work like The Grifters, After Dark My Sweet, Coup de Torchon, and (to a slightly lesser degree) Peckinpah’s The Getaway. But like I said, whether you can work up the courage to revisit the film like those other works is between you and your shadowy, feral god.