Mark Reviews Movies


3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Cast: Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Ned Beatty, Elias Koteas, Tom Bower, Simon Baker, Brent Briscoe, Matthew Maher, Liam Aiken, Jay R. Ferguson, Bill Pullman

MPAA Rating: R (for disturbing brutal violence, aberrant sexual content and some graphic nudity)

Running Time: 1:49

Release Date: 6/18/10 (limited); 6/25/10 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 24, 2010

The Killer Inside Me contains the ideal setup for a film noir: a pretty dame, a controlling tycoon, a naïve kid who loves the wrong woman, ten thousand dollars circulating in an extortion scheme, and a good ol' boy hero. The wrench in the works is that our hero is a sociopathic killer.

In a very mindful way, the premise is a deconstruction of the typical noir plot and the characters needed to make it run. The motivation is usually money, as it is here, and whether it is the ten thousand the prostitute tries to get out of the tycoon, the five hundred the hero receives for his part of the deal, or the twenty a poor kid ends up with under innocuous circumstances that puts him in a situation far past his understanding, the amount is unimportant. When whittled down to their basest elements, they are people who thrive on the misery and ruin of others.

Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), the deputy sheriff at the center of The Killer Inside Me, is that kind of person. Blame is passed around, and lies build upon each other. It's not about the money for Ford; it's not even about a warped kind of game for him to see how far he can take this scheme—how much he can get away with. It is entirely about causing destruction, tearing down the lives of others and—possibly as much a part of the thrill—bringing himself down in the process.

The sheriff (Tom Bower), who treats his deputy almost like a son, orders Ford to run a prostitute out of town. Her name is Joyce (Jessica Alba), and she is none too happy with the idea. She hits him, he hits her back, and they end up in bed together.

Joyce has another man who's obsessed with  her. He is Elmer Conway (Jay R. Ferguson), an old acquaintance of Ford (Everybody knows everyone else in this sort of Texas town). He wants to run away with her and get married. His father is Chester Conway (Ned Beatty), an influential businessman. Dad despises the idea of his son running off with a hooker and hires Ford to pay her the money Joyce demanded to leave town and forget about Elmer.

All involved have different ideas about the money. Elmer wants to steal the money for his elopement with Joyce.  Joyce wants to take the cash and head out with Ford. A local attorney (Elias Koteas) knows something about Ford's past. His older brother died under mysterious circumstances on one of Chester's construction sites. Clearly, the lawyer thinks, Ford has a reason to cozy up to the Conways. Yes, the older brother had some problems with the law a long time ago, but, like any brother, the lawyer reasons, that doesn't make him heavy. The mouthpiece will keep quiet about his suspicion of Ford's motivation, as long as none of it arrives at his doorstep, while the district attorney (Simon Baker) seems to be able to see right through him.

The rub with all of their plans and suspicions is that Ford doesn't care. He doesn't care about money. He doesn't care about revenge. He doesn't care in the slightest about anyone or anything. No matter how many favors he pulls for a local kid (Liam Aiken) who has a good heart but runs with the wrong crowd or how much everyone around him figures he and his sweetheart Amy (Kate Hudson) will marry, he is without sympathy or a conscious. He fakes it really well, but then again, that's what sociopaths do. Plus, his bookshelves are full of books by Freud. He recognizes what he is, is aware how people will react to him, and even believes he knows why he is the way he is.

Based on Jim Thompson's novel, John Curran's script finds mystery not in the mechanics of Ford's plan but in the unraveling of his damaged psyche. Intercutting flashbacks into main plot, Curran shows the incident that brought the law upon Ford's brother, revealing that Ford's penchant for lying and attributing guilt to others started early. From the start, with his encounter with Joyce, his sexual tendencies are focused entirely on holding power over others (Considering the flashback involving the brother, it's yet another pattern), and Curran slowly brings to light how this plays in his relationship with Amy and how it all started with his mother.

All of this amounts to a clear picture of this murderous fiend. Ford doesn't see these folks as pawns in a chess game or cogs in the machine of a plan; they are more akin to pieces of trash in his view, to be disposed of whenever the urge strikes him. When it does, the results are brutal. Director Michael Winterbottom lingers on violence here in a way that does not shy away from results. The first such eruption early on is a merciless display of the effect a fist can have on a person's face, and another later on turns someone in a writhing clump of pain (An argument for misogyny could easily be made, considering the most upsetting scenes of violence are aimed at women, however, Winterbottom hardly could be accused of glorifying any of it).

Affleck gives a startling portrayal of Ford, his tranquil demeanor shifting into a demented smile as the man considers the destruction he is about unleash. The cinematography by Marcel Zyskind juxtaposes the dreamy, slick, electrically lit nights of an Edward Hopper with the impossibly sunny ideal of Rural Town, USA, similar to the way Ford's apologetic, romantic narration clashes with the cruelty of his actions.

The impact of The Killer Inside Me is a forceful and visceral one. Winterbottom has crafted a handsome film about the ugliness of the worst of human nature and, in the process, given us a fascinating dissection of genre mechanics.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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