Central City was small town Americana before the oil boom opened the door to corruption, but Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford (Casey Affleck, "Gone Baby Gone") seems to embody its former values. Yet when he goes to run prostitute Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba, "Sin City," "The Love Guru") out of town, he finds his link to a revenge plot that will unleash "The Killer Inside Me."
Eclectic director Michael Winterbottom has done everything from adapting British literature ("Jude," "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story") to making political docudramas ("Welcome to Sarajevo," "In This World," "A Mighty Heart") to commenting on the British music scene ("24 Hour Party People," "9 Songs"). He's even made a Western ("The Claim"), a sci-fi flick ("Code 46") and a couple of documentaries ("The Road to Guantanamo," "The Shock Doctrine"). With his latest, the second screen adaptation of Jim Thompson's infamous pulp novel and Winterbottom's second film about a serial killer, however, Winterbottom has miscast both himself and his lead actor. "The Killer Inside Me" is a handsomely mounted production with a flippant rockabilly soundtrack and hollow emotional core. Even the much talked about two scenes of shocking violence won't be that traumatic for anyone who's seen Gaspar Noe's "Irreversible."
The son of the former town doctor, Lou's held in high regard by good old boy Sheriff Bob Maples (Tom Bower, "The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans," "Crazy Heart"). He's engaged to the upstanding Miss Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson, "Bride Wars," "Nine") and gets free meals from Max Pappas, the Central City diner owner grateful to Lou for keeping his problematic teenaged boy out of worse trouble. But we soon see Lou is not what he appears to be. He's no pushover when dealing with Chester Conway (Ned Beatty, "Nashville," "Charlie Wilson's War"), the man who owns half the town and who made have had Lou's foster brother murdered on one of his construction sites. When he encounters a drunken bum (Brent Briscoe, "Yes Man," "Extract") one night, he treats the man's extended palm to a burn from his Cuban - and seems to enjoy it. When businessman Joe Rothman (Elias Koteas, "Shutter Island") wonders how Lou feels about his father having taken in a boy two years his senior, supplanting him at the age of six, then years later procuring him a job after a prison stint for a 'mess' with a little girl, a flashback reveals that Lou should feel nothing but gratitude. Then, Lou brutally beats Joyce, the woman he professes to love, to death to stage a murder/suicide with Conway's son Elmer, and with the arrival of outside investigator Howard Hendricks (Simon Baker, "The Devil Wears Prada," TV's "The Mentalist"), folks begin taking a second look at the man they thought they knew. But that doesn't stop Lou.
Casey Affleck's turned in some good performances over the years, but Lou Ford eludes him and Winterbottom hasn't helped. We never feel where Ford's sickness is springing from. Sure, Lou may find some S&M pictures of mom stashed in dad's Bible (conveniently stored right next to his Freud volume) that segue into another flashback cataloging mom's inappropriate sexual appetites, but this is no explanation as Winterbottom seems to believe. We also don't understand the character's recklessness, as he continues to plunk himself in the midst of messily orchestrated crime scenes. Except for the extremity of the violence against them, it is difficult to empathize with either of Lou's female victims as there is no believability in either relationship.
Winterbottom and his production team have done a great job recreating the time and place, the chief pleasure of the film. There's a little Edward Hopper at play here and cinematographer Marcel Zyskind can make one think noir even as we watch Lou drive down a road in broad daylight (think Janet Leigh and that highway patrol cop in "Psycho"). He (and Winterbottom, admittedly) also captures Kate Hudson's death scene with blunt indignity and also mysticism, having somehow manufactured that moment when the light leaves someone's eyes. It's one of the most indelible death scenes in cinema history. But the film's "Blue Velvet" veneer of squeaky clean small town surface obscuring the evil that lurks beneath makes one wonder how more masterfully this material would have been handled in the hands of David Lynch. The film's ending may have worked on the page, but it makes little sense on the screen (wouldn't all those lawmen have recognized the threat of gasoline fumes?).
Incendiary as it tries to be, "The Killer Inside Me" left me pretty cold.
Robin's review coming soon!
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