THE KILLER INSIDE ME's Disquieting Charms
Casey Affleck's portrayal of Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford in Michael Winterbottom's THE KILLER INSIDE ME is probably the single most amazing performance I've seen this year. It's a total embodiment of a horrible character that's as memorable, disturbing and thought-provoking as Daniel Day-Lewis was in THERE WILL BE BLOOD, but more subtle and unassuming. Lou Ford, much like Robert Ford, is the perfect role for the younger Affleck, and it continues a string of amazing performances in low-key, provocative dramas since his appearance in brother Ben's masterful GONE BABY GONE. His performance is the center of this film, with all of its menace and traditional noir overtones radiating outward from the essence of the unnameable evil that surely exists in Lou.
The film is without a doubt one of the creepiest and most disturbing movies to come out this year, which is surprising considering the unusually high number of creep-fests unleashed on audiences in the past few months (SPLICE, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE). But creepiness aside, I find myself constantly returning to it as a purely unforgettable viewing experience. I can't shake it - it's under my skin, and it's going to stay there. Everything about it is pitch-perfect.
Adapted from what is probably the rowdiest novel I've ever read (the passage where Lou describes beating his girlfriend's face as being like hitting a pumpkin is the most graphic thing I may read in my lifetime), Jim Thompson's blacker-than-black noir THE KILLER INSIDE ME, this is a film that, quite literally, pulls no punches on its audience. From the opening, which is full of gorgeous retro-styled freeze-frames and features the haunting use of Little Willie John's version of "Fever," it's obvious that Winterbottom has crafted an altogether different sort of film than what we're used to seeing for an American audience.
The film has been attacked for its ultraviolent murders (see my previous write-up: "Strange Bedfellows"), which are brutally realistic, but they work to great, sickening effect, but which mostly feature the women Lou Ford ostensibly has feelings for on some level. Affleck brings a quite menace to these scenes, and his innocent, boyish features may contain the key behind some of the critiques lobbed at the film. After all, how can someone so nice, even as purposefully nice (and in some moments of pitch-black humor, extremely biting) as Lou is. In some ways, the "nice guy" persona is played off much like in the television show DEXTER, which also concerns a cold-blooded killer that is intent on keeping people off his tracks, but Lou isn't really likable, so this may not be an entirely apt analogy.
For me, the scene that most singularly makes the film is right as Lou delivers the final blow to Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba), a prostitute who is probably the only person Lou actually cares about in the film (though the killer inside him definitely does not). After punching her repeatedly in the face, at which point bone is visible through her gored and broken skin, he tells her not to worry, "it'll all be over soon," and then he delivers a few more crushing blows as she falls over onto the floor, being beaten to near-death before the arrival of Elmer Conway, his second (and main) target in the planned double-murder that sets the film in motion. Still, after having her skull pounded like so much flattened steak, it's the fact that, in both book and film, Joyce still has that compassionate, loving look in her eyes. Only moments beforehand she had been planning to run away with Lou after stealing a load of cash from Elmer's father, but even as her dream is slowly fading from her reality, along with her life, she just can't believe that Lou is doing this to her. It's an absolutely chilling point to make: no one believes Lou capable of such things, even those he is doing them to.
But back to Affleck, who really makes this scene tick. He's cold, calculating, and goes about the savage beating in a very methodical way. Lou's detached from what he's doing at this point, and it's only when he sees Joyce's eyes that he offers solace in the only form he can: assurance that he's going to end the pain soon. That brief exchange allows Lou to break through the killer, and I think it's probably the only time in the entire film (and the book) that he realizes that he actually does care about this woman on some level. And then he kills her. Brutal stuff. That, in essence, is THE KILLER INSIDE ME: Haunting, unflinching, and ultimately unforgettable.
It's difficult to say why this film got under my skin. Maybe it's my deep love for the Noir genre, and for Jim Thompson's creation. This is by far the best and truest adaptation of his work, even counting Stephen Frears' THE GRIFTERS. I can't stop thinking about Affleck. I can't stop thinking of his first, second and third murders (his gut-punch and head-kicking of his respectable girlfriend/fiancee Amy Stanton is just as brutal as that of Joyce). I can't stop thinking of how he seems just like a nice guy, but with a seriously dark urge that he is helpless against. I don't mean that the killer part of him is entirely separated from his conscious, just that it makes up the majority of a completely subdued personality that he doesn't let out in public. Logically, he knows he probably shouldn't kill people - after all, why would you cover it up or care about how you're perceived - but that doesn't stop his own logic that people have to die. "No one has it coming," he tells the teenage boy in his jail cell right before killing him, "That's why nobody can see it coming." In the case of Lou Ford, that is 100% correct.