Sundance 2010: The Killer Inside Me causes outrage!
Posted on Monday January 25, 2010, 09:54 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Oh. My. God. This blog was meant to be about The Runaways, in which Kristen Stewart plays Joan Jett and has a lesbian love scene with Dakota Fanning while crossing gender lines and snorting cocaine in a tragic-sweet biopic celebrating the life and times of the 70s all-girl rock band of the same name. That seemed a story enough... until the lights came up on Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me, a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Jim Thompson's 1952 pulp novel in which a smalltown Texas cop becomes embroiled in a series of increasingly psychopathic murders. It began with an amazing retro credits sequence and ended with a woman, shaking with rage, asking why this film was chosen for the festival. In between, Winterbottom's latest provocation made Chris Morris's Four Lions seem quite mild in comparison, creating a compelling study of madness that had the audience gasping and the people behind me wondering aloud (in the way that everybody in Sundance wonders aloud) if the film would ever see the light of day in America.
I'll say up front that the film had some technical problems: the sound (or was it the acoustics?) seemed off, and star Casey Affleck's reedy voice frequently got lost in the mix. This made the film somewhat hard to follow, as it starts in a low-key, talky, noir fashion, with Affleck's Lou Ford being sent across town by his boss to send a local prostitute packing. He doesn't; instead, Ford embarks on a brutal S&M affair with her that suddenly turns dark in a way that will immediately raise hackles. I'd rather not go too much into plot, but they then plan a blackmail sting on a local business mogul, threatening to expose his seedy son if a ransom isn't paid. This is is the basic premise, and it sounds fairly standard, like the usual neo-noir stuff: it could be the Wachowski brothers' Bound, maybe, or one of John Dahl's films from when he was actually good.
But what's not very standard, however, is the violence. Though it is initially suggested rather than shown, in scenes that find Ford behaving more than a bit erratically, the cruelty in this film goes way beyond the endurance level of the average viewer. Blue Velvet this is not; there is no artful surrealism, just bleak, bloody and unjustifiable punishment, most of it (but not only) directed against women. And that's not all. Those women seem not just to endure it but to enjoy it, as much as they love the closed-off, sick, and sexually aberrant Ford – who, after all, is the person telling us this. The fact that these women are played by Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba only compounded the horror that seemed to ricochet around the auditorium, while the homely, hillbilly radio tunes on the score, plus Marcel Zyskind's pristine cinematography, put it all in a slick, plausible period setting.
I think I need to see the film again to know for sure how I feel about it, but twice after the lights came up I heard snarky audience members mention the words “American” and “Psycho”, each time in a tone of voice suggesting that this was nothing new. Well, Jim Thompson dealt in first-person wacko narratives well before Bret Easton Ellis, and – duh – in American Psycho, violence was a metaphor for the venal, self-serving economics of the United States in Ronald Reagan's wake. The Killer Inside Me, however, is about real violence, about real insanity, and the mental confusion that turns love upside down and destroys everything in its wake. I'm still not sure that I got it all, but from what I think I saw, I'm prepared to say that I think The Killer Inside Me, like Werner Herzog's My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, is an incredibly effectively and chilling exploration of mental breakdown, aided by a gripping central performance from Affleck as Ford, the killer on the road whose brain really IS squirming like a toad. Maybe if I see it again it might break the spell, but for now Winterbottom's film has followed me home and won't leave my brain alone. I'm far too old to be saying this, but I think The Killer Inside Me is badass. In all the best, right and wrong ways.
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Posted on Wednesday January 27, 2010, 16:00
Was the experience so extreme that Mr Wise is now in therapy? I'm asking because Sundance updates are conspicuous by their absence...
Posted on Wednesday January 27, 2010, 16:18
Just busy, man! I've seen Welcome To The Rileys, Frozen, Smash His Camera, Teenage Parazzo, The Extra Man, Cyrus, Winter's Bone, Twelve... Buried and Exit Through The Gift Shop today; all reports coming as soon I get the time...
Posted on Friday January 29, 2010, 01:06
oooooh! yet another conveniently titillating 'controversial' film that sexualizes violence against women (where's gaspar noe?) and we're SHOCKED. another director pushing that tired old envelope. it's only shocking in the way getting punched in the face is always shocking but under the surface it's about as conformist as it gets. fraudulent film-making.
Posted on Friday January 29, 2010, 08:25
Did you see it? I'm happy to discuss it with you if you have. I don't agree.
Posted on Wednesday February 3, 2010, 09:54
I know that most often movies and their directors find other things to fixate on etc when they are translating books for screen, but having read your review its sounds that the director was very very faithful.
i find the shock that audiences feel to be a good thing as watching violence of this kind should never be easy, but the reaction of many who believe instantly that its overtly sexualising violence against women, i think they are massively missing the point.
the argument has been around for so long -and with good reason- but it has then become a shield that stops many from seeing when the violence on the screen is indicative of the lengths the character's mental sickness goes. its automatically taken that its sick gratification whereas in the book and hopfully the movie its about a very real mental abberation that is able to go about disguised in society dispite the shocking things he does.
i think the book and certainly the movie should be read from this point of view, if you go in thinking- just another american psycho or here we go more sexy violence then you'll miss the chance to watch a fantastic actor, Affleck, immerse himself in the psychology of a psychopath, the lengths he'll go and the things he finds not only normal but exciting and necessary. go in watching the character and ask why is he doing that, dont go in to find cliche's.
Posted on Wednesday May 26, 2010, 07:38
I would recommend seeing it again as the tension from a largely right wing American audience must have been palpable!
I felt Greengrass' lack of trust in his audience by showing everything undermined a film that was stylistically beautiful. Go back and see a classic noir and the beauty of the genre is the suggestion and what is implied. Showing the level of violence that Greengrass does just displays his voyeuristic nature and lack of skill. I haven't read the book but I know the genre and I felt robbed.
I hope Affleck limits the psycho roles as well. He is a very talented actor with enormous range - fabulous in Gone Baby Gone. Just want to see more of him.
A good film that could have been great had Greengrass trusted us more.
Posted on Wednesday May 26, 2010, 10:51
In fairness, the movie is directed by Micheal Winterbottom, not the excellent Paul Greengrass. Will reserve judgement until watching it, but Winterbottoms previous 'controversial' movies were explicit but seemed to have little point to make, and for that matter were not explicit in either an erotic sense or in a way that offered insight into characters. Leaving a bit more to suggestion would have taken nothing away yet made the film(s) a little more accessible (but as pointed out, requires more film making skill).