How does one reconcile the fact that a young, polite, seemingly-passive Sheriff's Deputy in 1950's Texas is actually a psychotic killer with a penchant for rough sex and misogynistic beatings? It is certainly not in the realm of impossibility but the new IFC Films' thriller, “The Killer Inside Me,” based on Jim Thompson's 1952 pulp crime novel of the same name, does exactly that. The book was first adapted onto the big screen in 1976 starring Stacey Keach and directed by Burt Kennedy. This newer adaptation, directed by British director Michael Winterbottom (“9 Songs,” “A Mighty Heart,”The Claim” and “The Road To Guantanamo”), is inherently violent and borders on stylized sadomasochism, not exactly one expects from a 1950's crime novel. That “The Killer Inside Me” exhibits such open bravado in its eroticism is not really a stretch, considering Winterbottom's almost-porn work on “9 Songs.”
Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is the Sheriff's Deputy of Central City, a small oil town in Texas. Life is easygoing and dull in this town, as evidenced by Lou's opening narration. Our first impression of Lou is that he is polite (he tips his stetson to ladies crossing the street), laid back and quite unremarkable--a regular Joe, if you will. Requested by his boss, Sheriff Bob Maples (Tom Bower) to have a nice chat with a prostitute who lives on the edge of town, Lou arrives at the home of Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba) to convince her to move her business elsewhere. However, a simple misunderstanding eventually leads a torrid and unusual affair between them. Lou loves to inflict pain on his women and Joyce likes to submit to his aggressions, a match made in sadomasochistic hell (or heaven, from another point of view).
Lou is already engaged to the demure Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson), a young lady with a good reputation. But that doesn't stop Lou from exploring his dark side with Joyce. One day, Joyce hatches a plan to extort money from the town's wealthiest resident, Chester Conway (Ned Beatty), whom she knows will try to cover up the fact that she is having an illicit relationship with his son, Elmer (Jay R. Ferguson). With Lou's help in brokering the deal, a meeting is set up at Joyce's place for Elmer to hand over the hush money. However, Lou has other sinister plans of his own and it is to kill Elmer and to use Joyce to cover up his tracks, making it look like a beating gone horribly wrong.
You see, Lou is not only a deviant in the bedroom but he is also a sociopath with a murderous streak. The real reason Lou wants Elmer killed is quite hazy and is unfortunately not explained well in the movie. The way that the story is structured and presented, we get bits and pieces of how Lou's adopted older brother was killed years before and the Conways are somehow suspected of it. How or why his brother was killed is never revealed or fully explained. These morsels of information come by the way of conversations between Lou and Joe Rothman (Elias Koteas), a mysterious character who also has a grudge against the Conways. When an outside investigator, Howard Hendricks (Simon Baker), is brought in to look into the murders of Elmer and Joyce, Lou's previously covered tracks starts to slowly unravel and he will do anything, including committing more murders and lies, to keep himself from being discovered.
John Curran's adapted screenplay of “The Killer Inside Me” feels to me, like an unfinished piece of work. The reason Lou wants Elmer dead is shoddily explained and that is essentially the main catalyst for triggering Lou's descent into psychotic killer territory. The audience can't be expected to infer anything from the rapid-fire conversations between Lou and Joe Rothman, knowing absolutely nothing, going in, about their backgrounds. However, the reason behind Lou's sadistic tendencies with women is handily explained with vivid flashbacks to his pretty messed-up childhood.
Casey Affleck has definitely moved on from being known as Ben's younger brother to becoming an established actor in his own right. With critically praised performances in “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford,” Affleck has matured into a well- regarded actor who can pull off just about any character thrown at him. Dropping his Boston accent for a southern drawl, Affleck provides chilling performances as Lou, first, as the sweet and polite young man and second, the sociopath who likes to beat women (whom he loves) to death with his fists. This is indeed a challenging role and Affleck is able to unite the two disparate sides of Lou Ford and magnify the true beast within that character. While Affleck gets the accolades he deserves, the two female leads, Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson, unfortunately, are simply just shoved into the background, not because of the lack of acting ability, but by the way that the script is written and also how director Winterbottom probably wants to objectify the two women in Lou Ford's life. Lou beats on them and they take it, by choice. Strong characters they are not, which is just a shame, watching their talents wasted on such meek roles.
“The Killer Inside Me” is truly a disconcerting crime thriller, dark in tone and uncompromising in its vile depiction of violence on women. There are some very serious themes working within the plot, ranging from child abuse to women staying in abusive relationships and director Winterbottom doesn't compromise when it comes to showing these stark truths. Lou Ford is such an evil presence, his radiant smile reminds me of the closing moments of the original “Omen” when the young Damien turns around and gives us that innocent yet so evil smile. The only problem I had with this film is the lack of a rational explanation for Lou wanting Elmer dead. Look past that and you are golden. The sight of the stunning Jessica Alba lying close to death wearing just a negligee, with her face beaten to a pulp may turn some people off but I hope they can look past the explicit violence and hang around long enough to engage in the journey through a sociopath's path of destruction and sit through the explosive ending.
To buy "The Killer Inside Me," go to Amazon.com: Blu-ray or DVD
As an independent film, “The Killer Inside Me” stays true to form and is able to establish a stylish and somewhat-erotic tone with some surprising twists and uncompromising violence jammed down our throats for good measure. Except for a small hiccup in the storytelling, the film works on many levels and inspired performances from Affleck, Alba and Hudson only adds to the enjoyment. “The Killer Inside Me” is violent in nature but effective in the way it will surprise and make you cower in disgust at the same time.
This review can also be read at DVDTown.
To buy "The Killer Inside Me," go to Amazon.com: Blu-ray or DVD