Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Killer Inside Me (2010, Michael Winterbottom)

Stanley Kubrick famously once said, "If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed". Successfully adapting Jim Thompson's notorious 1952 novel The Killer Inside Me to the big screen, however, could very well be the antithesis to old Stanley's Proposition. He called it, "the most chilling and believable first person story of a criminally warped mind i've ever encountered", quite a statement from the man who went on to give us A Clockwork Orange (1971). Kubrick dabbled with the idea of taking on Thompson's book, but despite working together twice on The Killing (1956) and Paths of Glory (1957), this sadly never materialised. Maybe he was the man for the job, maybe the book's essence is un-filmable, we'll never know, but British director Michael Winterbottom gives it a pretty good stab.

The story is simple - West Texas ranger Lou Ford is a mild mannered and much respected pillar of the community. Many of the town folk have known him since he was a child, his boyish good looks and impeccable manors have him trusted by most as an upstanding server of peace and justice. Underneath these positive attributes however lies a murderous rage that as we find out, leans towards the masochistic and misogynistic.

Casey Affleck has the job of portraying Ford, an intimidating prospect for any actor, yet despite his young age he has shown versatility and an incredible complexity in his roles. In the masterpiece The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007) he played another Ford, an equally complex (if less ruthless) character where he was note perfect in his detailed and nuanced portrayal. Here, Affleck is impressive, any misgivings the film might have are not a result of his performance, after all, most actors would crumble under this weight. Affleck provides us with an enigmatic Lou Ford, a man we can hardly stomach but also can't take our eyes off of.

The narrative trajectory regards Lou's killings and the heat bearing up on him as a result. As the film reaches its final third it takes on a rather more subjective direction as reality becomes less apparent, it's left us to discern what actually takes place and what is fantasy. The killings in question are few but brutal in every sense of the word; The Killer Inside Me falls into the category of film where its demonstration of unfathomable violence overshadows everything else on offer, for better or for worse. These inclusions could very well put most people off even watching the film, those brave enough come out only talking about the violence with much else being forgotten. This is a curse in that films with much to say, whether that voice is present in these violent acts, or whether the voice is at its strongest elsewhere in the film,  end up being disregarded no matter how close the subtext was to the surface. Violence is a damaging force even films can't escape, they lose out too.

Two scenes are incredibly shocking; one act of violence is unexpected and prolonged, the other, more swift and foreseeable. They push the boundaries of what the average cinema goer can stomach and the fact that both victims are female make it even harder to endure. It's important though to shake off these scenes and to view the film with as much clarity as possible.

Such a complex literary character is played so well by Affleck, Ford is far from a two bit cartoon murderer, masking simply under a false persona. Unlike perhaps American Psycho's Patrick Bateman, Ford isn't a murderer in disguise in the sense that he is a man capable of murder but doesn't seek it out. He is easily driven to it when necessary, and clearly enjoys it, though we see traces of a man living a normal life of simple pleasures. Ford is like a switch that can be set to kill, though this sounds two dimensional it's Affleck's portrayal of a man at odds with himself, with two conflicted sides that don't understand the other that makes The Killer Inside Me worth it. Both sides to him are genuine, and that's what makes it all so unnerving.

Michael Winterbottom is a strangely perfect choice to direct. A filmmaker without a notable style, he therefore doesn't inflict an overbearing style on an already characterful piece of work. He handles the story well, building an atmosphere that sticks seamlessly, only towards the end of the film its change of tone could be misgiven. This needs to be judged by each viewer's take on the films' bombastic finale as we may not be in the most reliable of narrator's hands. Let's not forget that in this Texas noir, it's Ford's voice that tells his story, past and present.

Far from everyone's cup of tea, The Killer Inside Me is an insightful character study full of impressive performances all round. If you can get past the violence that has deservedly earned it's reputation, there is plenty more to draw from.

For Fans of: Blood Simple (1984), American Psycho (2000), Irreversible (2002)