The Killer Inside Me

Movie Information

The Story: A deputy sheriff in a small town commits murder and tries to cover his tracks. The Lowdown: A violent, unsettling film that will offend many, but which offers a fascinating look into the mind of a sociopath from his point of view.
Score:

Genre: Pulp Fiction Noir Crime Drama
Director: Michael Winterbottom (A Mighty Heart)
Starring: Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Ned Beatty, Elias Koteas, Tom Bower, Bill Pullman
Rated: R

Yes, this is a brutal, nasty, violent and uncomfortable film. Since it’s based on a Jim Thompson novel, I took that as a given going in. A lot of people, however, seem to be surprised—shocked and stunned, even—by the violence of it, and the fact that the primary targets are Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba. So it’s just as well to mention that up front here.

It’s even been argued that the level of violence is worse in the film than in the book. Maybe. It’s been at least 15 years since I read Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, so I can’t say authoritatively if that’s true, though my suspicion is that this perception of the movie’s greater level of violence is mostly the difference between the printed word and the immediacy of film. Regardless, it’s probably good to bear all this in mind when deciding whether or not to see the movie.

The Killer Inside Me is an attempt to enter the mind of sociopathic killer Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), a deputy sheriff in a small Texas town in 1952. It’s an attempt that sometimes works, sometimes scores a near-hit and sometimes doesn’t work at all, but is invariably fascinating throughout. The movie is also deeply disturbing in ways it both intends and perhaps doesn’t intend, and in neither case does this necessarily relate to the movie’s violence.

This quality of uncomfortability has as much (or more) to do with the characterization of Ford himself—a characterization that raises the intriguing question of the reality of what we see, since the story is told from Ford’s own perspective. Viewing things through his eyes accounts for the movie’s dispassionate tone—this is, after all, from the mind of a character who can’t feel anything. But it also raises questions of how honestly Ford sees himself.

Stripped to its essence, the film follows the deputy’s descent into complete isolation from the rest of the world. He finds himself in a strange position when local bigwig Chester Conway (Ned Beatty) asks Ford to get rid of local prostitute Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba) because Conway’s son, Elmer (TV actor Jay R. Ferguson), is becoming too attached to the woman. Not only is Ford himself embroiled in a sadomasochistic relationship with Joyce, but Conway is also at least indirectly responsible for the death of Ford’s own adopted brother. The deputy’s solution becomes to beat Joyce to death, murder Elmer and then make it look like Joyce killed him. The bulk of the film concerns itself with Ford trying to keep from being discovered. Since this is in noir and pulp-fiction mode, it only follows that more murders, blackmail and other unpleasantness will be involved.

The storyline alone isn’t all that interesting; it’s what colors the narrative that makes this film intriguing. The real interest lies in the characterization of Lou Ford and in what, at bottom, is his vision of the other characters. And yet the characterization of Ford is slippery in itself. The key to getting a solid grasp on him may be in his assessment early on that the trouble with small towns is that everybody thinks they know all about you, especially since nobody really knows him at all—including, for that matter, quite possibly Ford himself.

The film—which is to say, Ford—views him in highly intellectual terms. The deputy listens to Mahler (pretty rare in 1952) and opera (the latter is very important), reads constantly and makes espresso, while a chess game in progress always sits on the table. But is this reality? Little that Ford says—or even the way that he says it—supports this elevated view of him. The soundtrack of his daily life is country music, not the music he plays at home, and it’s made clear that he knows the more popular music of his day. Is the intellectual Ford merely a role he’s playing for us, and for himself?

These are the questions that keep the film interesting as it goes through its twists and turns to arrive at a very operatic conclusion that may or may not exist outside the confines of Ford’s own mind. I’ll say no more on this point, since the film obviously is designed to leave the ending—and many other things—open to question. This repeated lack of resolution alone may frustrate some viewers, but the crux of the film is built on the idea that it’s told from an unreliable point of view. And, for me at least, that’s what makes this undeniably flawed movie linger in the mind long after it’s over and its pulp plot has run its course. Rated R for disturbing brutal violence, aberrant sexual content and some graphic nudity.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

19 thoughts on “The Killer Inside Me

  1. ncain

    Unfortunately, I missed the very limited run this film had in Atlanta, and I’m going to have to wait for the DVD, but when the extended trailer intended for distributors leaked online, I went back and read the book again to see if I remembered it correctly. It turns out, the level of violence in the book is shocking, especially in the first encounter between Lou and Joyce. I doubt the filmmakers were able to fully recreate it, and many other sequences, although I have heard that this film, if anything, was too true to the source material.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I have heard that this film, if anything, was too true to the source material.

    I really need to read the book again, because I’ve seen this point argued in several places, some of which say the film is nastier than the book.

  3. ncain

    some of which say the film is nastier than the book.

    This would be almost impossible to do. It’s more likely the film’s not quite as nasty as the book, but still plenty nasty. Actual deptictions of what’s in the book would probably land an NC-17 rating.

  4. Dread P. Roberts

    My curiousity is killing me, but I don’t know if I can justify the time and money required, in place of the other options out there. This is most likely going to be a rental.

  5. Ken Hanke

    My curiousity is killing me, but I don’t know if I can justify the time and money required, in place of the other options out there. This is most likely going to be a rental.

    My only argument with that is that I do think this is a movie that benefits from size. Compared to say, The Kids Are All Right, which is a better movie, I’d opt for this for big screen fare.

  6. Winterbottom is one of the more intriguing directors working out there. He slips effortlessly through multiple genres: JUDE, 9 SONGS, 24 PARTY PEOPLE, CODE 46, to name a few. Even if they don’t work, they are all worth a look.

  7. Me

    Winterbottoms a great director and i was really torn between going to see this or Scott Pilgrim (The big screen fare). Hopefully i can check it out next week.

    Is it me or has the The Carolina been getting better releases than the Fine Arts Theatre since you guys started the film club? I noticed that some of the upcoming films look really good Jack Goes Bowling, Restrepo, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, The American, Get Low. Don’t know if its just a coincidence but im looking forward to the next month or so.

  8. Ken Hanke

    Hopefully i can check it out next week.

    Hopefully. I have no idea what the box office on Killer was on Friday. Generally speaking, I tend to opt for the movie most likely to not last first.

    Is it me or has the The Carolina been getting better releases than the Fine Arts Theatre since you guys started the film club?

    If it is true — and that’d be a subjective call at best — it’s coincidental. The same allocation procedures on this kind of product exist post AFS as did pre AFS. The main thing the film society has done is increase awareness that the theater is there and what it offers — and perhaps increase awareness of “art” titles in general. It has had little if any impact on distributors. Is The American actually being handled as an “art” title? This looks like Focus (which is really Universal anyway) in wider release mode.

  9. shadmarsh

    I can’t imagine the film being any more disturbing than the book. However, out of all of Thompsons work not yet in film, I would love to see Pop. 1280 adapted.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I can’t imagine the film being any more disturbing than the book.

    I’m gonna have to dig up my copy of the book, I can tell.

  11. Me

    On a scale of Salo or Sweet Movie how disturbing is Killer? Those kinds of films intrigue me.

    You’re probably right about The American it does have George Clooney in it so i would say it will see a wide release.

  12. Ken Hanke

    On a scale of Salo or Sweet Movie how disturbing is Killer? Those kinds of films intrigue me.

    I don’t find it comparable. It’s a different kind of disturbing. There’s no gag reflex stuff here really — unless you get queasy over violence.

    By the way, I won’t know until tomorrow what its fate is, but Killer Inside Me pretty much tanked.

  13. By the way, I won’t know until tomorrow what its fate is, but Killer Inside Me pretty much tanked.

    This another film reviewed this week are coming out on dvd next month.

  14. Ken Hanke

    This another film reviewed this week are coming out on dvd next month.

    I don’t know if that’s a factor or not. I kind of doubt it. I do think the lack of a draw-power star and the violence level did. This isn’t the kind of violence that’s going to pull in the Expendables crowd. This is more cerebral and the parts that aren’t violent would bore that demographic. Also — is this thing already on VOD?

  15. Rick Hays

    we saw it today… just did not think it was a very good movie in general… though the soundtrack was great

  16. Me

    Oh yeah i think Killer is on VOD or at least it was. That’s one of the things i miss since i’ve switched to satellite.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Oh yeah i think Killer is on VOD or at least it was.

    I think most IFC stuff tends to be. This is what makes it such a losing proposition from an exhibitor standpoint. Their films are niche market items to begin with. Then they cut into that already small market by making it available on VOD. That the films get any bookings at all is amazing.

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