Lou seems like such a nice-looking young man. Soft-spoken, clean-cut, a defender of law and order, always willing to tip his hat to a lady.
Unless you happen to catch that polite smile freezing into a death's head grimace on his face, you'd never guess he was a stone-cold psychopath.
Veteran noir writer Jim Thompson ("The Grifters") explored the twisted psychology of a small-town sheriff's deputy who wasn't wired right in "The Killer Inside Me." Now, director Michael Winterbottom has made a faithful adapatation of Thompson's bleak novel for the big screen. Maybe too faithful-this is one punishing movie that's not for the squeamish.
Casey Affleck is perfectly cast as Lou Ford, a deputy in a sleepy 1950s Texas town that doesn't know the monster that lurks in its midst. His kindly boss (Tom Bower) thinks he's just a nice young man, while a blustery local tycoon (Ned Beatty) thinks he can use Lou as hired help to further his own ends.
The tycoon wants Lou to run a local prostitute named Joyce (Jessica Alba) out of town because Joyce has been spending time with the tycoon's son. Instead, Lou visits Joyce, whips her into submission, and embarks on a cruel sado-masochistic relationship with her. It gets much, much worse.
"The Killer Inside Me" chronicles Lou's efforts to execute this and other depraved schemes without getting caught by his boss, a suspicious federal agent (Simon Baker) or a local union boss (Elias Koteas). In no way do we root for him to succeed; just when Winterbottom cracks the door open on a little bit of empathy for Lou by showing flashbacks to his troubled childhood, he slams it shut with another cruel attack by Lou on an unsuspecting victim.
The movie is beautifully shot, using lots of period details and natural light, illustrating how Lou gets away with his horrible crimes in broad daylight while the rest of the town slumbers, unsuspecting. "Killer Inside Me" is also uninformly well-acted, with juicy bit parts by Beatty, Koteas and Bill Pullman as a shyster lawyer. And Affleck adds to his pantheon of creepy characters with his chilling portrayal of Lou; there's something about his gently raspy voice that just gets under your skin.
But there's no getting around the fact that "Killer Inside Me" is a very hard movie to watch because of its subject matter. It's Winterbottom's first entry into dark noir, and I think a more seasoned hand in the genre would have given Lou's horrible actions their proper moral weight.
I can pinpoint the exact moment "Killer Inside Me" lost me. It's the scene immediately after the most gut-twistingly awful one in the film. (You'll know it.) While the audience is still reeling emotionally from what it's just witnessed, Winterbottom chooses to play a jaunty old cowboy song on the soundtrack. He obviously means it ironically, but it trivializes the drama in a way that really leaves a sour taste.
Bad things happen to good people in the movies. But "Killer Inside Me" at times is so gratuitously mean-spirited that it makes you feel like a chump for bothering to care about its characters.