The Killer Inside Me

Director    Michael Winterbottom
Starring    Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Ned Beatty, Elias Koteas, Tom Bower, Simon Baker
Release    18 JUN (US) 8 JUN (UK)    Certificate 18
3 stars


9th June 2010

Stepping out into the broad daylight of a summer's afternoon after watching The Killer Inside Me, Michael Winterbottom's entry into the film noir canon, proves a grotesquely incongruous affair. The joy has gone from my life now.
I hate the birds. I hate the bees. I want to kill them with my bare hands and a rictus grin on my face. The sun? I'm going to frame that yellow prick for murder; an auto-erotic asphyxiation death pact between the flowers and the trees. Child's balloons I shall defile. Ice cream I shall befoul. New born lambs I shall consume in one gulp, while laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing, all with the full knowledge that I am now dead inside thanks to this film. 

Casey Affleck plays Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford, an outwardly pleasant yet largely facile sociopath, a soulless husk of a man who wanders from trivial encounter to sexually violent atrocity with the same thousand-yard stare and inane platituding as an impotent civil servant. Affleck is a genius, and anything negative this review may say later about the film itself, shouldn't take away from the fact that for Affleck's performance alone, The Killer Inside Me is worth every penny of the ticket price (or an entire year's worth of unwatched Lovefilm discs). 

Sheriff Ford attempts to run Jessica Alba's prostitute, Joyce, out of town, but instead embarks on an oddly tender sadomasochistic affair with her. Together they plot revenge on the man who supposedly murdered Ford's brother, construction magnate Chester Conway (Ned Beatty! Where have you been?). Things take a cruel turn for the worse when Ford turns on Joyce by viciously beating her to death, then murdering Conway's son in order to frame them both for homicide. As suspicion mounts, Ford has to cover his tracks with even more murders and lies, until eventually his mask of sanity completely slips away. 

[gallery]To be honest that's a far more straightforward recounting of the plot than the film itself deigns to provide you with. Whilst watching The Killer Inside Me, following the plot becomes futile, frustrating and ultimately boring. As in all classic noir, the logic of the narrative takes a back seat; you're left with a series of Macguffins strung together in order to exemplify characters, tone and mood. In an apocryphal tale from 1940s Hollywood, Billy Wilder once rang Raymond Chandler, whilst adapting his novel The Big Sleep for the screen, to ask him where on Earth an extra dead body came from in the narrative. Chandler dryly replied that he didn't know and that it didn't matter anyway.

It's best to let the plot unfold and just enjoy the drama. But perhaps that's only true in much stronger films. The pace here is languid. In fact it actually fiddles under the skirt of tedium far too often; such is the old-fashioned structure of the film. This soporific pace, however, is punctuated by two extreme examples of brutal violence, both of which are meted out by Sheriff Ford towards the women who love him; women who are complicit in the violence and ultimately forgive him for it.

At its worst The Killer Inside Me is fiercely misogynistic, at its best it's merely ignorant of the existence of women. But have I made a classic mistake in confusing the film itself with the character of Lou Ford? We are supposedly in the psyche of Ford, where women are nothing but a cipher to the man. A symbol and personification of the demons he so willingly faces every day.

People who think this is a violent and immoral film are not necessarily seeing the whole picture. Yes, it's violent, but there is a huge difference between immoral violence and uncompromising violence. The Killer Inside Me holds up a mirror to noir and truly exposes the misogyny that has been inherent in the genre from its conception. But is extreme violence really necessary to make these points? Also, is it necessary that the only three women featured in this film are so compliant and forgiving of the crimes against them? 

Michael Winterbottom chooses to show them enjoying the rough, sadomasochistic aspects of Ford's sexuality, which is a very modern and progressive attitude to have. But Winterbottom (and indeed original author Jim Thompson, who also wrote hard boiled classics The Getaway and The Grifters) later implies that this sexuality is a gateway to deadlier, brutal violence.

Joyce and Amy (Kate Hudson) invite their own demise by allowing Ford to act out his fantasies on them in the first place. This is an unhealthy and irresponsible attitude to display in filmmaking, as is the implication that this entire fault belongs to the mysterious woman in Ford's flashbacks. Ford is not once held accountable for his own crimes; it's the women's fault. They gave him the sickness. They nurtured it and they allowed it to destroy them.

It's then very difficult to separate the rest of the film from these two key scenes of horror. Winterbottom doesn't seem to do himself any favours either, appearing aloof and reticent in interviews as if he's equal parts surprised and bored at our reaction towards the film.

Filmically, the tone is all over the place and takes far too many cues from other, more successful modern stabs at noir. From the blackly comic depiction of the horror hidden beneath a small town's suburban life in A History Of Violence, to the dusty trip through the backwater psyche of law enforcement in No Country For Old Men, The Killer Inside Me has little visually or thematically to add to a popular and difficult to truly balls up genre.

There are also far too many redundant characters that only add to the confusion, and the bizarre fiddle music that punctuates certain scenes keeps the film arch and highly self aware, in a way that the Coens are far more successful at doing.

I like Michael Winterbottom, and have admired him greatly. Highly prolific, erudite, and unchallenged by genre, resources or budget, the man makes the movies he wants to make. But this does make him somewhat of a tourist, never really leaving a signature or stamp of any meaning in any genre he's holidayed in. Can you name a Michael Winterbottom masterpiece? This difficult, hard to enjoy, yet thoroughly appreciable film won't do him any favours. But then again he probably doesn't care anyway.

Bunnies! I forgot about the bunnies. Fine, they can live. For now.

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