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The Killer Inside Me

Sociopath with a Badge

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Crime writer Jim Thompsonís novels have been adapted into several films, most after his death in 1977. The Getaway was adapted in 1972 (and again in 1994), Pop. 1280 in 1980 (as ďCoup de TorchonĒ), After Dark, My Sweet in 1988, and The Grifters in 1990.

Thompsonís 1952 novel, The Killer Inside Me, was adapted in 1976 to minimal recognition and critical appreciation. As one of his better novels, another adaptation was practically inevitable, but what prolific writer-director Michael Winterbottom has delivered is a film that raises important questions about the obligations, if any, a director has toward his audience, specifically the explicit depiction of violence toward women.

Thompsonís novels often used a first-person narrator, often unreliable, to tell twisted morality plays. Since first-person narration wasnít available, Winterbottom and his screenwriter Tony Curran used voiceover narration, first to introduce the central character, Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), a sociopath with a deputy sheriffís badge, who patrols the quiet streets of Central City, Texas in the early 1950s.

On the surface, Ford is placid, controlled. Underneath, however, Ford seethes with multiple resentments, none larger than the one directed toward Chester Conway (Ned Beatty), the local real estate developer. Ford blames Conway for the death, ruled an accident, of his older brother in a construction accident.

Asked to investigate Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba), a woman possibly working as a prostitute, and if necessary, run her out of town, Ford instead begins a sadomasochistic affair with her, even as he continues an affair with the more respectable Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson).

He sees the perfect opportunity to exact revenge on Conway when he discovers Conwayís wastrel son, Elmer (Jay R. Ferguson), wants to run away with Joyce. The elder Conway naturally objects. Ford steps in, supposedly to act as an intermediary. The elder Conway wants to buy off Joyce and send her away. Instead, both end up as pawns in Fordís game. Winterbottom sets Ford and the characters in Fordís web headlong toward a cruel, merciless fate. As Fordís plan inexorably unravels, the body count rises.

A local union leader, Joe Rothman (Elias Koteas), shows up to give Ford important information about Central Cityís other major players, including the new district attorney, Howard Hendricks (Simon Baker), who suspects Ford is a killer. Itís all very noir, circa 1950s. No one gets out alive, least of all the central character. Fate, coincidence, or another character spells the central characterís doom.

Despite The Killer Inside Meís status as noir, many of the events occur during daylight, to better highlight the bleached, dry roads and clear, blinding light. That manages to work visually, but Winterbottom meanders in and out of Fordís life, overlaying scenes with redundant voiceover narration, reductive and explanatory flashbacks to Fordís youth. A third-act side trip to a mental asylum that should have been excised completely. All of the above contribut to The Killer Inside Meís frustratingly languid pacing.

Pacing, however, isnít The Killer Inside Meís central problem. Itís Winterbottomís questionable decision to show extended scenes of violence against women. The male characters die quickly or offscreen, but Winterbottom brings Fordís sadism toward women, supposedly developed during an abusive childhood, front and center. The scenes are long, graphic, and deeply disturbing. Regardless of whether Winterbottom is playing the fidelity-to-the-text game (an excuse few should buy), why he decided to show, let alone film, these scenes should be asked.

Itís morally dubious, at best, and morally repugnant at worst. Either way, sitting through The Killer Inside Me is a singularly unpleasant experience, one, unfortunately, we wonít soon forget or repeat.