The Killer Inside Me (2010) dir. by Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba
By Blair Stewart
And it was all just going so damn well before the ending. Arriving at the Berlinale after a controversial Sundance premiere, the prolific Michael Winterbottom's latest is a frank adaptation of Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me with a 1950s small-town "aw shucks, ma'am" wacko-killer sheriff. If you feel resentment toward me for revealing that nugget of info or failing to include a 'spoiler warning' beforehand, I suggest you refrain from reading the title of the film, ok?
Central City, Texas is enjoying the post-war oil boom and the clean streets are patrolled by the chipper and handsome Casey Affleck as Deputy Lou Ford. If you're familiar with the younger Affleck's work from his debut in Gus Van Zant's To Die For to his Oscar-nominated Robert Ford in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, you'll know the ease with which he can flick on a creepy switch, like a bug is going to crawl out of his throat at any moment. Good-ol' boy Lou gets mixed up with a connected prostitute played by Jessica Alba as one of the more improbable ladies of the night in American film history since Julia Roberts worked the streets.
Deals will go bad and folks will find themselves dead and Sheriff Lou will spin longer and longer yarns at the D.A. to stay out of the electric chair. As the film progresses Lou's sadism (and peculiar childhood activites, spanking fetish ahoy!) towards the women in his life is revealed, hence the controversy, which itself is a quaint idea in the age of Google search engines. Watching Lou's psyche being peeled back makes for hypnotic viewing, as Affleck's eyes have the right shade of ice to them when he needs it. Surrounding the sheriff is a cast of Kate Hudson, Ned Beatty, Elais Koteas and Bill Pullman doing their Southern twangs well as his potential victims if they hang around long enough.
I'm sure Winterbottom was amped up to direct The Killer Inside Me, as it has a certain appeal for a Brit with Thompson's singular pulp Tex-Mex setting. You can see that joy in the lovingly designed opening credits and the camera work of Marcel Zyskind, and for 98.5% of the film it works something nasty and slippery with a Lone Star bite, another Blood Simple was coming down the pike.
And then the ending happened.
While the final moments are true to Thompson's classic, the delivery by Winterbottom and John Curran's script is flubbed. The finale is intended as a cruel death's head joke, but it arrives with the bumbling execution of an audible fart on the soundtrack. Where I should have felt a punch in my gut, instead I had to make due with the Benny Hill theme song playing inside my own mind given the plot and character inconsistencies piling up. What a shame.
It's a missed shot at a classic, but if Winterbottom continues to churn out work he'll likely make up for this.