Michael Winterbottom’s uncompromising crime thriller ‘The Killer Inside Me’ is a micro-budgeted indie that has stirred up controversy for its shocking depiction of violence. It was probably my favorite thing that I saw at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. So, I was a little confused as to why it had gotten so much flak. Since premiering at Sundance, where people cried out in panic and left the theater, it’s been walking around with a Scarlett Letter. It’s this year’s ‘Antichrist,’ according to popular sentiment.
When I saw the movie, I was utterly befuddled by this reaction, especially compared to ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’ That movie had even more shocking (and wholly unnecessary) sexual violence, but was widely accepted, even by most prudish moviegoers. Maybe that’s because ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ is based on a current literary phenomenon and ‘Killer Inside Me’ is based on a yellowed pulp novel by crime writer Jim Thompson? Who knows? If I could predict what people would get upset about, I’d be a much richer man.
‘Killer Inside Me’ supposedly sticks faithfully to the Thompson novel. The story is about Lou (Casey Affleck), a policeman in a dusty Texas town in the 1950s. He may seem like a dope on the outside, but he’s a schemer within. He plots a massive criminal operation that begins after he takes up an affair with a local prostitute (Jessica Alba). Things spin out of control from there, and there’s a fair amount of murder and mayhem.
In a weird way, the film’s dogged commitment to outrageousness brings to mind Werner Herzog’s recent ‘Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.’ Affleck has proven himself to be a top-notch actor in the last few years – particularly in that underrated gem ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.’ He’s totally up to the challenge of investing a fair amount of emotional depth in a truly rotten dude. In a weird way, by the end, you start rooting for Lou to get away with it. What “it” is…well, you’ll just have to see the movie for that.
The movie is a wild, borderline uncontrollable ride. Winterbottom is a director whose chameleon-like ability to adapt to any genre gives the material a kicky edge that is winking and sardonic, yet 100% sincere. It’s a tough balancing act to pull off, but Winterbottom does it masterfully. He films the movie beautifully and fils out the cast with superb supporting players like Elias Koteas, Bill Pullman, Kate Hudson, Simon Baker, and (Lotso himself) Ned Beatty.
Is ‘Killer Inside Me’ for everybody? Fuck no. But does it deserve the reputation it’s received either? No way. Fans of adventurous cinema are advised to take a look. You’ll be rewarded for going out on a limb. Also, it’s available on IFC’s On Demand service, so you can watch from the comfort of your own home. (But seriously, dude, you might want to get out occasionally; you’re looking pretty pale.)