“The Killer Inside Me”
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Starring Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, and a half dozen other headliners in cameo performances
2010, 109 min., rated R
I didn’t ask my movie buddy to see “The Killer Inside Me,” because I love her tenderly. She likes movies where people are kind to one another. I’d read the book, and I was pretty sure that the movie’s R rating was understated. I was right. The movie’s sadism and violence far exceeded the original crime novel by master pulp fiction writer Jim Thompson. Nevertheless, it was breathtaking art!
It’s about one central character in barren West Texas: Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford. He doesn’t carry a gun. He tips his hat to all the ladies. He says “yes’m” and “yessir” to every older person. If he whistled, you’d swear he was a young Andy Griffith on his way to the old Mayberry fishing hole. In a soft drawl, Lou narrates his own story in every detail.
The viewer gets to know Lou as a gentleman, as someone who guides himself very closely within the limits of social behavior, as a thinking man not given to quick judgments, as a country boy who’s never ridden an airplane or visited Fort Worth, and, finally, as a sadist, a psychopath, and a murderer. We viewers find out from Jim’s own account, just as we learned from Humbert Humbert in “Lolita,” that our new friend is insane.
“Lolita,” with its forbidden humor, isn’t the only great book that compares with “The Killer Inside Me.” Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” if it happened in 1959 in West Texas, would have been very close to the same story. Author Jim Thompson, according to Wikipedia, was a great admirer of the dark Russian dramatist.
Thompson was an Oklahoman at one time. Also at one time a West Texas oil field worker. Also a Communist. He admired workers and featured them prominently, as he features a small-town union organizer in the present work. Among his many literary accomplishments, Thompson supervised the depression-era Works Progress Administration group that wrote an excellent history of Oklahoma labor, still available at the University of Oklahoma.
If you can handle the movie’s pure awful violence and general ill-will, there are a lot of reasons to see it:
*Country-music fans, and even a few others, will love the soundtrack, especially the original Spade Cooley version of “Shame on You!”
*Few period pieces are as close in every detail as this portrayal of West Texas around 1959. They apparently gathered every old car that was still running, and every scene was true to the period.
*For those who like their plots tight, this one is a model. With only one very intentional exception, everything that happens, no matter how casual, is relevant to the story and the ending. For some pixie reason, one extra character is identified right at the ending. Star Casey Affleck slips out of character, just once, to tell the new guy, “Don’t talk, they didn’t give you any lines!”
*Casey Affleck, as the laconic lunatic Lou Ford, is incredible, and he isn’t the only actor stretched far beyond any normal human range. Several of Hollywood’s finest performers step far away from their usual roles and breathe common characters into memorable people.
*Back when Jim Thompson was turning out his pulp fiction masterpieces, he could never have gotten such graphic sex, sadism and violence published. Director Michael Winterbottom takes advantage of today’s mores to be far more explicit. At the same time, he preserves the original novel’s best feature, its gradually growing familiarity, almost comfort, with one of the darkest characters so far in literature.
Photo: Casey Affleck in “The Killer Inside Me.” (www.killerinsideme.com)