THE KILLER INSIDE ME. Starring Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Simon Baker.D irected by Michael Winterbottom. Rated MA 15+ (strong violence, sexualised violence and sex scenes).
The title might indicate some caution to audiences who do not like murder thrillers and whatever violence they might portray. Murder will out. And here it comes out very brutally – twice.
The reason for mentioning this first – though it should not have to be said for an audience who understands films and how they work in their conventions of storytelling – is that there was some uproar concerning the tone of and reasons for showing these brutal actions and so viscerally. Because the violence was perpetrated on two women, some comments were made that film was misogynistic. (A film showing Catholics being martyred by vicious authorities is scarcely anti-Catholic.) This violence against women is shown as abhorrent in the plot and condemns the brutal beater as mentally disturbed. Director Michael Winterbottom suggested that any other reading of the sequences would be perverse.
It is the question of that distinction between what is shown and how it is shown that is always important. There is a context here – the portrait of a deeply dysfunctional man. Whether the scenes in question are too long or are too much is always a matter of personal sensitivities and debate: what is too much for me may not be too much for the person next to me and the question arises whether my sensitivity is superior to that of the next person or just different, and who imposes the sensitivity norms? (Not all of us, to take a neutral example, are able to watch surgery procedures.)
Michael Winterbottom said that he stayed close to Jim Thompson's novel and that the rhythms of what is presented is his judgment and his editor's work.
It seems that there is a 'fundamentalist' approach to the presentation of sexuality and violent sequences on screen
sometimes by earnest and devout people who concentrate over-literally on the immediate content, the 'what', without spending reflection on the context, the 'how' and move immediately into protest and campaign mode.
It is often said that much should be left to the imagination – and that opinion has great value. On the other hand, faced with harsh or repellent images of reality, the imagination might not work. It blocks. It avoids. It can refuse to imagine or go beyond a brief suggestion of the sexuality or violence.
And, the film itself. Very well crafted, an arresting adaptation of the Thompson novel. It is a film noir – very noir despite the bright West Texas sunlight back in those days where the film is set. Thompson died in 1952. The British Winterbottom brings an outsider's perceptions to this basic American story, the madness that sometimes underlies the surface innocence and respectability and erupts unexpectedly and brutally.
Performances are striking. Casey Affleck, plays the young policeman, fresh-faced and unsuspicious, who harbours deep secrets, abusive experience in his family, and who lets go, even against those he loves, leading to a climax in the vein of much American literature, a fiery apocalyptic consummation.
Affleck is in every scenes and shows how effective he can be as he did with his Bob Ford assassinating Brad Pitt's Jesse James. Here is another Ford, Lou, who loses control of himself sinisterly, shrewdly and destructively. Jessica Alba is striking, Kate Hudson less so, mostly a foil for Affleck. A strong supporting cast brings to life the local sheriff, tycoons, wastrel sons, investigators, union leaders: Ned Beatty, Tom Bowers, Elias Koteas, Simon Baker, Bill Pullman.
So, this is genre material for a psychosexual case study. It is an American story. The US is a land of serial killers, impulsive mass shooters who make regular headlines as they break out. This has to be faced by American audiences and The Killer Inside Me and its issues may be a brief but properly challenging experience.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Released August 26 2010.