Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson
"Nobody has it coming. That's why nobody can see it coming." The words of Lou Ford (Affleck), a straight-up man of the town, the Deputy Sheriff no less, who never shouts, always tips his hat to a lady, and never insults a man's mother. But behind his softly spoken facade of justice, he has another face: a sociopathic beater of women, and murderer to boot. This is his film. And it's as uncomfortable as it sounds.
Too uncomfortable for some, in fact - a lot has been made of its violent content, labelling the film and its director, the ever-prolific (and often polemic) Brit Michael Winterbottom, as misogynistic. These detractors are wrong, but a fair accusation from a glimpse at the movie's surface.
Lingering on the moments where Ford's fist pummels his victim's face into a pumpkin, the 50s noir narrative unfolds unsettlingly close to its protagonist. He looks with foul disdain upon the small-town folk around him, including the women who seem to subjugate themselves to his sadistic sexual habits. But Winterbottom never condones his worldview; characters react in contrast to Ford's nasal narration, building up a disjointed perspective which never slips, even during the film's moral conclusion. Like Hitchcock's Norman Bates, this psycho is skewed in the head. He's no hero.
The cast help balance out the film's troubling content. Affleck has an undeniable charisma on screen - his skull-like smile and quiet, creepy voice ensure Ford's killer is engaging but never likeable. As knocked-about prostitute Joyce, Jessica Alba is a complex, bruised individual, well-matched by Kate Hudson's Amy, a wholesome girlfriend-next-door with an apparent acceptance of their relationship's rough intercourse.
Ford's female victims are utterly sympathetic creatures, beaten to a pulp by his psychotic male desires - his motives are briefly alluded to in flashback, leaving most of the work to Affleck's eery and unstable performance. Thanks to the realistic supporting cast and setting, it's a pretty world on the outside, but pretty ugly within. A cool and cruel atmosphere hangs over the stylish visuals, heightening every punch and kick as the killing spree spreads across the town. Never dismissing the violence as acceptable, glamourous or somehow entertaining, Winterbottom wisely pitches his crime drama at a disturbing and accurate level. Any sentiment on show is either fleeting or affecting, but the acts themselves never feel justified.
A gripping and unnerving account of one man's cold-blooded mind, The Killer Inside Me makes for harsh viewing. Hard-core, but high quality.
To look at the media reaction we see the usual accusations of misogyny. I have never understood this on many levels. Firstly, what is the difference between a misogynist character and a misogynist film? Some people argue that if a film fails to 'punish' characters who's actions they consider morally reprehensible shows an underlying sympathy for them and therefore equates the two.
Secondly, misogyny would be hatred or contempt for women. But to look at Lou Ford, surely a better label would be misanthropic? He hates or has contempt for everyone. *spoilers* He kills 5 men in addition to the 2 women. Is this different? Or is is the manner of the death? He beats Alba's character to death and then shoots a male character 4 times in the head. Surely these actions are the same? Are people arguing that killing a woman is worse than killing a man? What if the man had been beaten to death?
So, having seen previous responses to violence against women elicit strong responses what better than to make a film in which appears serious and contains strong violence but also ridiculous sections? Not one review I have seen deals with the laughable ending. Or do people not want to consider a film with strong violence against women to be a joke for fear of trivialising the violence they are so outraged at?
A final point. Can anyone say that Ford did not love the women he killed, at least at certain points? His character is a determined one, one prepared to sacrifice even that dearest to him in order to gain revenge and keep events a secret respectively?
Just to reduce confusion, I enjoyed the film tremendously, as I think a certain Mr. von Trier would have done as well.