THE KILLER INSIDE ME (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)

 
“I’m not giving you any lines.”

As soon as the opening credits come up at the start of The Killer Inside Me, we kind of get a hint at what director Michael Winterbottom is aiming for. The way in which Little Willie John’s “Fever” scorches on the soundtrack and the assortment of colorful and bubbling title cards that all the characters get is a testament to the neo-noir atmosphere the film is sketching for. As the film’s narrative itself comes to the surface, however, is where we piece together why Winterbottom is using this tongue-in-cheek choice in his direction. Not unlike the brilliant Jim Thompson novel of which the film is based off of, The Killer Inside Me is told from the psyche of the film’s vicious protagonist, Lou Ford. In doing this, Winterbottom has practically allowed himself to step into the skin of Lou. Hell, one could just give credit to Lou Ford as the true director of the picture.

One of the most genius aspects of Thompson’s novel is that we never really know whether to believe Lou Ford or not. He’s telling us this story, and we’re naturally meant to believe him. His earnestness to prize himself as some kind of anti-hero is definitely the kind of attitude that he shares with Patrick Bateman of American Psycho. The film version sticks to this, as we have Lou’s narration and the fact that we never see what other characters are doing outside of his experiences. The only thing we are really sure of is that he kills people and that he has the humble willingness to admit that.

Casey Affleck, who has already become one of my favorite contemporary actors with this and many other films from the aughts, portrays Lou in an otherworldly way. He pulls off making strangers and neighbors believe he’s the sweetheart sheriff he isn’t (or at least, in his words, he succeeds) without losing track of that psychotic beast buried deep within his soul. One moment he could be talking sweetly to some girl and his words sound simple and friendly, while his eyes seem to be collecting what the girl’s face would look like beaten to the pulp. It’s a fearless performance, in that Affleck never tries to ask the viewer to forgive Lou but just root for him. Whether the viewer does or not is just entirely dependable on what side of the insanity spectrum they are on.

In the first act of The Killer Inside Me, we follow Lou and how he defines his everyday life. Everyone loves him, of course, and everyone respects him. When he is called on to kick the sweet-talking Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba) out of the county for prostitution, Lou finds himself in an uncontrollable state of mind after an argument and beats on the woman with a belt. To his shock, she enjoyed it and in less than a minute afterward, begin to fuck. This scene happens so viciously fast that it could spin a few heads, but what the viewer can get from this scene (and the ones involving Lou and Joyce thereafter) are some of the strongest thoughts about the clockwork of the sexually violent minds of predator and prey. Jessica Alba, who surprisingly gives the film’s most haunting performance, convincingly brings Joyce to life in short screentime and her opening scene is only one of the best acted scenes of the film. Every word she mutters after Lou attacks her is vulnerable and raw… and we really believe that she wants him inside her. But for what reason exactly?

Many online forum users have pointed out how the film’s title sounds pornographic. If they’d seen the film (or even read the book) they would realize that the sexual entendre is totally intentional on Jim Thompson’s part. From Lou’s point-of-view, it’s letting us know of his inner being. From Joyce Lakeland and Lou’s girlfriend Amy Stanton (played with scene-chewing charisma by Kate Hudson)’s points-of-view, they show how oblivious they are to the sexual hunger they have for a man who really wants to hurt them. This is what makes every sex scene in the film so distressingly difficult to watch, as the women believe they are being loved and Lou almost always feels the need to cover their face up with his hand. While they open themselves up emotionally, Lou feeds more and more to his need for sexually-caused domestic violence.

Out of the two women Lou becomes sexually involved, Joyce is easily the most naïve. She becomes oblivious to the fact that there is nothing between Lou and her, and she remains ignorant in predicting what he is capable of doing to her. The infamous and controversial scene, in which Lou punches Joyce to death, is built-up in ways far more disturbing than the later scene. Her final look before being slammed against the wall speaks louder than words ever could. Every blow that Lou’s fist makes on Joyce is a moment in which we cringe. Her muddled actions while being beaten to death are difficult to even think about, as this lost girl finds it hard to understand what Lou is doing and whether or not she should be enjoying it or not. Cinematic death scenes don’t get much more realistic and cold-hearted as this one; and it’s in Jessica Alba’s performance that makes it all come so viciously alive.

Michael Winterbottom directs The Killer Inside Me with such immaculateness that, as the film goes along, we begin to get so deep within Lou Ford’s dark mind that we become unaware of the emotions of others. A later plot development in which Lou realizes one of his victims may be still alive is told completely through frantic emotions from all directions. Through Affleck’s performance, the behavior of the smaller characters, and the clutter of the city – we sense Lou’s paranoia. Just as in a later scene, where he discovers girlfriend Amy wrote a letter for him describing why she wants to leave him, we see (from Lou’s perspective) how he would have seen Amy in the bathroom. She cries with uncertainty whether to leave the man she loves. It’s through the words Amy speaks herself on the page of that note that we realize she is purely certain of her decision, and that Lou is probably just feeding us even more of that false godlike stigma.

As the film gets all the more closer to the finish line, Lou is getting all the more closer to reaching crazier than he was at the start. As the film toys around with many of its film noir conventions throughout the first two acts, the final act is wild and zany; getting to the core of Lou’s state of mind in the most visual way possible. Giving himself more of that rebellious hero self-worship and breaking the fourth wall, Lou (ie; Winterbottom) gets to the point of how he wants this story to end. And in a bloody embrace set with cartoonish flames, Lou gets it; expecting us to stand up and applaud for his tragic ending.

The Killer Inside Me has obviously been met to mediocre, and sometimes negative, reviews. But that’s to be expected. The film’s that dig into the dark corners of sexually violent people almost always do. Unless you are a psycho killer closetcase who can easily relate to Lou Ford, this isn’t a film that will entertain you just as it certainly isn’t fun to watch. With keen understanding of Jim Thompson’s intentions with his novel (one in which Stanley Kubrick called “the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered”) and how faithfully Michael Winterbottom brought the story to screen with his darkly funny and hauntingly serious neo-noir shadings, I think film buffs would respect the overall brilliant way in which The Killer Inside Me projects the messy mind of a psychopath. I already do.

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~ by jerkwoddjh on June 19, 2010.

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