‘The Killer Inside Me’

On The Aisle

By Tony Macklin

When a screenplay of a movie does not serve its literary source well, it’s a major problem.

When a movie is directed tentatively, it’s a major problem. When a movie is miscast, it’s a major problem.

“The Killer Inside Me,” which has been released to theaters and at the same time is on TV on video-on-demand, has all three problems.

The movie adaptation of the cult classic novel (1952) by Jim Thompson sorely lacks the quality, depth and vitality of the book. Screenwriter John Curran, director Michael Winterbottom, and actor Casey Affleck all are earnest, but earnestness doesn’t cut it. Ill-conceived earnestness is still ill-conceived.

“The Killer Inside Me” is the story of deputy Lou Ford (Affleck) set in the 1950s in Central City, a town in west Texas. Lou has a pleasant, innocuous surface, but underneath hides a murderous killer. He brutalizes women and commits a series of shocking killings. His monstrous actions lead him down a bloody, fatalistic path of destruction. It’s a probing character study of a psychopath.

The book is compelling; the movie fails to match it. Most of all, the movie lacks clarity. Much of Lou’s “sickness” comes from the past and his childhood, but in the movie this is vague.

One of the crucial, major characters is blurred. What happened to Helene? In the book, she’s Lou’s father’s housekeeper, who has mysterious, sado-masochistic sex with Lou, which has a lasting effect on him.

In the book, as an adult, Lou finds one provocative nude photo of Helene; the movie has several. The more the murkier.

In the movie she’s not identified in the credits. Maybe she didn’t want her pubes identified. Very few reviewers refer to the character in the movie, one thought she might be Lou’s mother. Clarity?

In Lou’s sexual encounters in the movie, Winterbottom has him clasp his hand over his partner’s face to make her more like the woman in his youth. But who was she?

Winterbottom and his screenwriter cut or changed other relevant qualities. They cut out Lou’s manic laughter that is a major characteristic of the protagonist in the book, and they add a spitting. I assume for shock value.

Thompson’s prose has an energy and verve the movie lacks. It also has a little lyricism that is absent in the movie: “A butterfly struck against the windscreen and flew away again.”

Cinematographer Marcel Zyskind pays an undeserved nod to Edward Hopper, but the tone of Thompson’s prose eludes him.

Winterbottom turns some credible scenes in the book into contrivance in his movie. The sequence of the bums running down the street in the movie becomes nearly preposterous.

Affleck is miscast. He is a fine actor, but he has trouble carrying a film. He is more observer than protagonist. He was ideal playing Robert Ford (another Ford) to Brad Pitt’s Jesse James in a performance for which he received a nomination as Best Supporting Actor. Affleck could play Nick Carraway to Pitt’s Gatsby. Maybe Ford should have made a Pitt stop.

In “Gone Baby Gone,” much of the action happens around Affleck. In the Danny Ocean series, Affleck is a cog. But as the center of a movie, Affleck lacks dimension.

The rest of the cast is able, especially Tom Bower as the broken sheriff. Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson offer their faces and bodies for abuse.

But Affleck lacks sufficient substance. His character supposedly is a sexual magnet for women, but Affleck is no sex machine. Hardly. He is as bland as Mighty Mouse.

When Lou punches women, which is a lot, his punches seem like ka-pows, not possessing deadly impact. His victims are pulp, but we are not pulverized.

Some females walked out of the screening at Sundance because of the movie’s misogynism, but the impacts are more surprising than shocking. Maybe that’s why they included the arbitrary spitting.

I probably wouldn’t want to see the movie of Jim Thompson’s novel as it should be made. But the critic inside me realizes the present movie is only a pale facsimile.

Tony Macklin, a former college English and film professor, is still foraging for truth in literature and film, in Arkansas, Las Vegas and beyond.

Categories: Entertainment