Based on the novel by legendary pulp writer Jim Thompson, Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me tells the story of handsome, charming, unassuming small town sheriff's deputy Lou Ford.

Lou has a bunch of problems. Woman problems. Law enforcement problems. An ever-growing pile of murder victims in his West Texas jurisdiction. And the fact he's a sadist, a psychopath, a killer. Suspicion begins to fall on Lou, and it's only a matter of time before he runs out of alibis. But in Thompson’s savage, bleak, blacker than noir universe nothing is ever what it seems and it turns out that the investigators pursuing him might have a secret of their own.

Brutal violence haunts sensual small town thriller.

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: There’s never anything really simple about movie violence, though some filmmakers, censors and talk back jocks often talk about it like it should be. Movie conventions have a way of corrupting a healthy scepticism about the choices filmmakers make. As a rule, in movies murder has to be motivated, and blood has to be paid for. Sometimes gore is one big turn on; or lately, post-modern irony is mobilised as a way to sweep aside any qualms about mounting body counts and spraying gore.

What’s haunting, disturbing and valuable about Michael Winterbottom’s strange adaptation of Jim Thompson’s '50s hard-boiled thriller The Killer Inside Me, is the way it scrambles any easy answers about its on-screen savagery. This is a sensual film; Winterbottom shoots the smooth curves of beautiful young flesh in adoring close-up with an identical intensity and detail that he adopts when that same flesh is beaten into bloody pulp. Since this is a film derived from crime fiction the plot is tangled and complicated and involves stupid schemes that go wrong. Still, we don’t ever really understand the violence. There is a lot of murder here, but there are two scenes, both beatings, of women that are shown in lengthy detail. The victims suffer terribly and they take, what seems a very long time to succumb. These scenes are painful – not only because they are so bloody and nasty but also because they tear down a movie-dream; the one where the guy runs away with the girl. Both these attacks come at the hands of the movie’s anti-hero, Lou (Casey Affleck), and the women he’s attacking are both his lovers.

Lou is a nice looking Good Ol’ Boy with innocent looks. But he likes sadomasochistic sex and he’s shocked and excited by what murder does for him. Lou is the town cop that no one takes serious. Order and power is actually maintained by Chester Conway (Ned Beatty), the richest man in town. For awhile the only character who sees past Lou’s All-American image is the DA (Simon Baker). But, as the stakes get higher and the corpses pile higher, it seems everyone who had a beef with Lou starts to emerge, and all want to exploit the fact that their nice little town seems to harbour a serial killer.

Still, Winterbottom seems less interested in generating suspense, than he is in creating a character piece about a decent man who turns into a psycho. The movie settles into a languid mood early on; it’s a pageant of cross-plots, and small time small town pettiness.

The casting is eccentric and intriguing. Jessica Alba’s Joyce, the town prostitute, seems more naïve than knowing; and Kate Hudson, as Lou’s sweet heart girlfriend, appears, like every one else in the town, playing an image.

Still, for all the potency of its ideas and the sad aged-by-the-sun cinematography of Marcel Zyskind that seems to doom the characters before the movie really gets started, Winterbottom’s film is really rather down beat and hard to take. Perhaps that’s only just so. Lou’s heart of darkness takes us to a dead end. It’s the kind of violent movie where you just want all the bloody mayhem to stop.

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1 hour 49 min
In Cinemas 26 August 2010,
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 11