Casey Affleck stars, but horrific violence and sex scenes are a bit much.
The Texas locations are flat. The performances are flat. The cinematography is long-lens, shallow focus without depth of field, which, in layman terms, means it looks wicked flat. Casey Affleck, a brilliant young actor, recites his lines in a numbed stupor, rendering him weirdly, tragically flat. The only bumps and curves arrive via Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson, and you won’t want to see what happens to them.
Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me is the overheated, sex-crazed story of a serial killer told with surgical reserve, like Taxi Driver remade by Richard Donner. I am always amazed at how the versatile and prolific director Michael Winterbottom can tackle so many subjects and genres and repeatedly find a way to always make them tedious and personality-free. Westerns (The Claim), sci-fi (Code 46), naked Kate Winslet (Jude): Winterbottom has an uncanny ability to take everything in the world I enjoy and make it stiflingly British and oppressively dull. His 2004 effort 9 Songs was nothing—and I mean nothing, the film literally had no plot—but hardcore sex scenes juxtaposed with live music performances. The movie was only rock music and fucking, my two favorite things, and I still fell fast asleep halfway through the screener.
The Killer Inside Me takes the great, lurid 1952 novel by Jim Thompson, poet of the noir gutter, and blands it out into a mild blur with brief punctuations of horrific violence. The movie is far too in tune with Affleck’s performance; he’s a conscienceless, disaffected Sheriff’s deputy in a podunk Texas town who also happens to be a perverted serial killer. He also happens to be kind of dull.
Affleck’s sent to chase a local prostitute out of town, as she’s recently taken up with the son of a prominent local businessman (Ned Beatty, way scarier in Toy Story 3). As played by Jessica Alba, this may be the only whore in the history of showbiz who gets off on the creepiest, most deviant spanky-type sex acts but always wears a brassiere the whole time. Before long, she and Casey are involved in a complicated double-cross, which sadly ends with young Affleck pounding her face into hamburger and shooting her beloved boyfriend in the head. Give Winterbottom credit, if it is indeed due. The Killer Inside Me is gross. If you dig the mushy, muffled sound of a man’s fist slamming into a woman’s mottled face while her jawbone quietly shatters, this is the movie for you.
Affleck’s matter-of-fact lack of remorse is a wonder to behold, but the movie has no idea what to do with it. As proved in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (and hey, his name is Ford here, too!) young Casey’s baby-faced blank slate is a brilliant drawing board for sociopathy. But Winterbottom refuses to commit to Thompson’s first-person P.O.V., constantly airlifting in charater actors to stand around reciting exposition about a convoluted union-busting noir plot that never coheres.
Great character actors like Elias Koteas and Bill Pullman drop by to shovel on the redneck atmosphere, but nothing sticks beyond Affleck’s faraway psychosis. A dalliance with a local “good girl” (played with shocking adequacy by Kate Hudson) goes exactly the way you think it will. Thompson’s you-are-there seediness is undone by Winterbottom’s reserve, until all the outré ending’s freakish double meanings have been buried beneath snarky period music cues and secondhand Coen brothers gags.
I always end up with the same question about Michael Winterbottom and his boring competence. I understand that he knows how to make a movie, I’ve just never gotten a glimpse of why he’d bother to.
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson
Running time: 109 minutes