Dir. Michael Winterbottom; star. Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson; 2010; USA.
**1/2 (out of 4). In the 1940s and ‘50s American moviegoers were tantalized by the expansive vistas of westerns and the spectacle of colour, paired with the righteousness of Biblical epics and feel-good musicals. But there was another kind of movie in circulation at the same time, one that shunned colour for high contrast black and white and told nihilistic stories that were at odds with the post-war optimism reflected in other movies of the time. Film-noir was both a genre and a movement and it represented the dark side of America in an ostensibly optimistic time. Film-noir typically concerns a hardened detective in over his head, investigating powers too large for his understanding or a decent guy tempted by a one-time illegal job, usually a murder with a beautiful woman involved, thinking that every detail had been taken care of, but he can’t see the noose gradually tightening around his neck.
The Killer Inside Me is not film-noir, its time has past. But the movie is neo-noir, nostalgically rehashing film-noir’s conventions. Casey Affleck plays a sheriff’s deputy named Lou Ford who gets talked into a blackmailing scheme (or maybe he orchestrated the whole thing) who thinks he has it all figured out, that he’s sidestepped the noose, not realizing how wide it runs. His boss asks him to run a prostitute (Alba) out of town, whose best client is a good old boy (Jay R. Ferguson) whose father (Ned Beatty) owns the town. She blackmails him and plans to leave town with Lou for a fresh start. Lou double-crosses them both, kills them and frames them for each other’s murder; a plan that seems pointless since he doesn’t even take the money. This inescapable downward spiral is typical of film-noir except that we usually root for the protagonist. We are supposed to see ourselves in his shoes, how he could be anyone in the right circumstances. But Lou is a cold-blooded murderer, initially targeting two people who don’t deserve it, then committing more murders to cover up the first two. We are to understand that he is driven to kill by mysterious circumstances and are left with that information.
Affleck gives a good performance as the quiet, solicitous Lou, whom there isn’t much to say for, but at the same time it’s hard to hold anything against him. It’s surprising then, that he has a secret hobby of murder, and Affleck plays both sides of his personality convincingly, and in a way where both sides cohesively exist within the same person. Despite Affleck’s performance and the charisma he imbues Lou, the character is simply not that interesting. Affleck as a performer is more interesting than his character and what success the movie has is to his credit.
The question that continually popped into my mind while watching was “why does this movie exist?” Lou’s story isn’t captivating and there’s no pleasure in seeing him attempt the perfect crime – a scenario film-noir frequently tests. But the movie isn’t that bad of a time either, save having to sit through Lou “staging” the savage beatings of his girlfriends. If we could chalk up the movie’s existence to postmodernism it might make some sense, but there isn’t much in terms of homage or self-reflexivity. There is one fissure at the end, serving as a subtle wink to the audience that comes out of nowhere and just seems strange. Maybe Michael Winterbottom is a film-noir fan and longed to make a movie from another time period. Good for him I guess. I wasn’t able to take a lot away from his movie.
For a good introduction to film-noir, I’d recommend Double Indemnity and Out of the Past, the later features some of the best one-liners of any movie I’ve seen.
-Only God Forgives
David Jackson can be reached at email@example.com.