The Killer Inside Me (2010) is an American crime drama film adaptation of the 1952 novel of the same name by pulp fiction guru Jim Thompson (The Getaway and The Grifters among his most popular books turned into films), directed by prolific English television and film director Michael Winterbottom from a script by John Curran (The Painted Veil, We Don’t Live Here Anymore) – See my review of the film Stone from Curran’s screenplay.
While the original 1950s pulp novel was heralded by many, considered a compelling and uncompromising exploitation of crime and drama, this treatment of the material suffers from a purposefully detached and emotionally vacant portrayal of an everyday man sociopath prone to insidious acts of violence without consequence or context. The simple truth is that the pulp material, pulp as in escapism fiction for the general entertainment of mass audiences, doesn’t translate to the big screen or any screen for that matter. The only thing worse than a film that takes itself too seriously is one that does not take itself serious enough, and Mr. Winterbottom’s erred judgment is second only to the incredible wasted opportunity to exploit the talented cast and crew.
The Killer Inside Me disappoints at every turn, both a product of consumer fascination with violence and an exploration of the death-for-no-reason-at-all culture that has taken front row in audiences near and far. This phenomenon is perhaps best exemplified in the bastardization of film ratings, the choice of PG13 over an R rating in order to maximize audiences and dumb down the subject matter. Have you ever watched a PG13 version of Good Fellas or Boyz In the Hood? Don’t bother. In the past decade alone, drawn as much to the spectacle of death and disembowelment as the treatment of extreme violence, audiences grow increasingly perplexed by stories shrouded in social commentary that frequently if not always falls on deaf ears and blind eyes. People go to see zombie movies because, in fact, they expect to see copious amounts of zombies, brutality and nonsensical mayhem. In turn, people are dismayed by the lack of zombies in their mid-afternoon or late evening ventures to the metro-plex or neighborhood cinema. In this case, The Killer Inside Me plays like a bad afternoon freebie, a film too full of itself to be interesting, too insulting of the senses to afford even the most liberal of criticism.
The story is told from the perspective of the protagonist, Lou Ford, a twenty-something deputy sheriff in a small town with dreams that never seem to materialize outside the boundaries of every-town America amid second time felons and want-to-be starlets. Casey Affleck is a convincing deputy, though his peculiar one-track tone and wide-eyed sensibility infuses deputy Ford with a kind of simple mindedness and run-of-the-mill micro town personae that is at once available but quickly embarks into a realm of blatant disregard that never fully translates in a cinematic way. The problem isn’t necessarily with the material as it is with director Winterbottom who treats the violence like a veil that is seemingly raised and lowered at will, never given reason or depth but used liked a battle-axe to clear the path – never mind the carnage attached with the action or the appropriate reaction to said carnage.
There is no point to this film any more than there is to films like Michael Haneke’s remake of Funny Games or Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds – films, regardless of theory and form, fail with every breath to convince the audience that they should keep watching because the filmmakers were making a statement of merit. In this case, Winterbottom is lost in the subject matter, incapable of resolving the fundamental error of the storyline so that the audience is able to glean something from the very earliest steps of the protagonist and much worse, every step thereafter that plays out like an inept soap opera with paper-thin characters with sketchy, uninteresting stories to tell.
The Killer Inside Me is no less brutal than an animal that wanders into rush hour traffic, than a calf lead to the slaughter – for these things we have seen and experienced and therefore they possess weight in our world, unlike this film. Even the worst zombie movie finds a way to give the weakest character in the film device enough to survive, to carry the message of survival, of having made it through. The sad reality is no one informed mister Winterbottom that such prerequisites are necessary in a film lest we relegate the effort to that of a television movie of the week no one but the sedate or wheelchair bound are forced to sit through – unless they wield the remote control and can find anything else to pass their time.