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The Killer Inside Me

The British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom is nothing if not ambitious, which may be why he has never had a breakout international hit despite his talents. The closest he’s come were 24 Hour Party People and A Mighty Heart, both showing his interest in docudrama. More often he seems to want to test limits, whether by working explicit sex into a romance in 9 Songs or adapting that famously unfilmable novel Tristram Shandy. With The Killer Inside Me, already notorious for several scenes of violence that no sane person could sit through without a shudder, he may have come up against a writer even less amenable to being filmed than Lawrence Sterne: Jim Thompson, the pulp novelist whose heyday in the 1950s led to him being posthumously dubbed the “dime-store Dostoyevsky.” Thompson’s stories have been stripped down often enough, for movies like The Grifters, The Getaway, and After Dark My Sweet, but always with the loss of chillingly unreliable voice that Thompson employed. The way his first-person narrators, usually psychotic, sociopathic, or simply insane, presented their stories is what keeps Thompson’s work so chillingly compelling. But in trying to maintain that uncertainty on film, Winterbottom eventually slides into a confusion that sends the viewer adrift. To the film’s benefit is the casting of Casey Affleck as Texas deputy sheriff Lou Ford, whose seemingly calm exterior masks what he calls “the sickness.” Looking more like David Byrne in True Stories than Stacy Keach in the previous film of this book, Affleck’s bursts of murderous rage are all the more startling coming from this baby faced youth. The film works too hard to capture the period (west Texas in the mid 1950s), which is only distracting from the real work at hand. And while the violence may be true to the story, it’s another example of how literature and cinema differ: As with Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, you understand that you are being shown violence meant to repulse you—you’re just not sure why you are expected to watch it.

Watch the trailer for The Killer Inside Me

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