Sunday 8 February 2015

The Killer Inside Me by Curran and Winterbottom

The Killer Inside Me isn't a recent release, but it was one of the best films of 2010 and I just watched it again on Blu-ray, so it's fresh in my mind. It's based on a novel by Jim Thompson and is probably the ultimate Thompson adaptation in its quality and fidelity. The other contender is Sam Peckinpah's version of The Getaway, with a script by Walter Hill. But The Getaway cops out on Thompson's nightmare vision of things by dispensing with his apocalyptic conclusion in favour of a happy ending — quite rightly, I think. Jim Thompson's hellish sensibility is not for everyone. Indeed I often think it's not for me.

Written in 1952, The Killer Inside Me was ahead of its time in being a first person narrative by a murderous psychopath, one which forces us to inhabit his skin and see the world through his eyes. 

And, being Jim Thompson, this sadistic killer also happens to be a cop. Stanley Kubrick praised the novel highly and used Thompson as a screenwriter on two of his early films, The Killing and Paths of Glory.

Now, more than half a century after publication, this book finds its way to the screen in a magnificent version, brilliantly directed by Michael Winterbottom and faithfully scripted by John Curran, who directed the impressive Somerset Maugham adaptation The Painted Veil. 

(Intriguingly, there is also a 1976 version of The Killer Inside Me starring Stacy Keach which I have yet to see.)

The new film stars Casey Affleck, who is perfect as the nightmare protagonist Lou Ford, and Jessica Alba as the prostitute who loves him. Alba's presence lights up the screen but, this being a Jim Thompson story, her fate is horrible. 

The brutality meted out to the women in his life by Lou Ford is hard to take, and many viewers have reacted with violent distaste. I can understand that, but it is true to Jim Thompson's vision and Winterbottom and Curran are to be congratulated on their courage. Like I said, this is one Thompson adaptation which doesn't cop out.

(And it should be noted that Lou is no sexist. He also murders men and boys. And at one point he puts his cigar out in the palm of a drunk's hand. He may be a homicidal sadist, but he doesn't discriminate.)

It's also a perversely beautiful movie, especially on Blu-ray, with luminous photography by Marcel Zyskind and a gorgeous 1950s graphic-style title sequence. And I guess it says something about me that what I find much more offensive than any act of violence in the film is the fact that poor John Curran is forced to share his screen credit with three producers instead of getting a card to himself, like a writer should.

(Image credits: the blue poster and the Jessica Alba head shot and the Russian one are from Imp Awards. Smoking in the car is from What Culture. Politely holding hat is from Out Now. )

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