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The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)



     A classic crime novel is given an adaptation that pulls no punches in Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me. Starring Casey Affleck as a Texas deputy sheriff who belies his clean-cut appearance, this daring (if not entirely successful) film forces us to contend with the cold, amoral logic of a madman. The plot here, which begins as a prostitute upsets the delicate balance of power in a small-town, is not very strong. It features overfamiliar revelations about the petty corruption inherent in local politics, stiffly drawn, archetypical characters, and a few too many dramatic coincidences for comfort. What power the story does have is gained from its ironic symmetry, with events becoming increasingly disturbing as they grow more repetitive. If the plot is somewhat routine, Killer focuses its energies instead is in its single-minded depiction of Affleck’s psychic decay. Perhaps not since Gaspar Noe’s I Am Alone has a movie serial killer felt so perched on the edge of the void.


     It's no great spoiler to state that Affleck plays said killer, and that his croak of a voice and physical stature make him a less than authoritative screen presence and an unlikely psychopath. Winterbottom does little to exploit the tension between his lead actor’s appearance and actions, however. No one in the film seems to underestimate him at any turn. Affleck’s creepiness has been better exploited in his past work (e.g. The Assassination of Jesse James…), making his performance here slightly redundant, even if it’s far from lousy. His acting still registers more profoundly than any from the mediocre supporting cast. Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba play Affleck’s love interests, but neither of them generates much interest as either femme fatale or victim.


     Winterbottom is a director who is noteworthy largely for the extreme variety in his output, but he has indulged similar themes before, most notably in 1995’s Butterfly Kiss. While this movie is more classically structured than that one, it’s nearly as psychologically implausible, similarly valuing shock effects over character insight. Watching Affleck spank or brutally attack his sex partners, one certainly is unsettled, but the pulpiness of the film’s other scenes ensure that these transgressions cannot be taken too seriously. They are just another stock perversion in a world filled with them. Affleck’s character is meant to represent an unfathomable evil, but his interior nothingness seems just one cliché among many.




Jeremy Heilman