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Killer Inside Me, The (Blu-ray Review)

4 Oct, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Box Office $0.2 million
$19.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ or disturbing brutal violence, aberrant sexual content and some graphic nudity.
Stars Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Ned Beatty.

Jim Thompson’s eponymous 1952 novella is such a staple of hard-boiled literature that the esteemed Library of America made it the lead-off selection in its Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s anthology. This misfired but not-easy-to-ignore curio is actually the second screen version, but Warner gave its 1976 predecessor unenthusiastically tepid distribution, and I can’t even recall if I ever managed to catch it on VHS or cable (there has never been a DVD of it).

Given an intriguing femme duo with mostly fluffy screen resumés lending their presence to such sordid material, I was hoping to see this version during its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it theatrical engagements — though, as it turned out, I blinked. Catching up with it now, it’s easy to understand the new Killer’s brief domestic run (17 theaters in its widest saturation, though it did more than five times the business overseas). Despite a certain watchability around the edges, the only scene that engenders a full emotional response is the most repulsive one in the film.

A distinctive character actor but perhaps one not naturally positioned to be the a movie lead, Casey Affleck plays a well-read and otherwise cultured deputy sheriff in a West Texas town so limited in its prospects that an airplane hop to Fort Worth is considered a big deal. “Encouraged” by what passes for the burg’s power broker (Ned Beatty) to rid the vicinity of a comely prostitute who has captivated this honcho’s son, Affleck’s Lou Ford character instead takes up with her for consensually rough sex that eventually gets so out of hand that the result reportedly got more than its share of audiences hisses when Killer played the festival circuit. The story’s crucial beating would be disturbing with any recipient, but there’s an added dimension when someone cast against type plays the victim. Here, it’s Jessica Alba.

Casting — if only on paper — is what this movie has: Alba (who’s not bad but could have been given more to do in her limited screen time) plus Kate Hudson, who ends up faltering completely as what passes as Lou’s girlfriend in a more conventional sense. Excepting one standout number in Nine, Hudson’s tremendous promise in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous is now a far distant memory — and, in fact, her deservedly Oscar-nominated turn was almost exactly nine years ago. Going the indie/noir route sounded like a promising idea given that dreadful comedies like Hudson’s Fool’s Gold or Bride Wars are never going to get you anywhere in the long run (or even short).

The Affleck-Hudson scenes are really by-the-numbers here, and it doesn’t look as if Michael Winterbottom (by virtue of Jude, the only director to have adapted Thompson and Thomas Hardy) exercised much care with her performance or potential as a photographic subject. Affleck is a problem all around because his voiceover — delivered in that expressive monotone that was so potent in Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford — comes off as a whiny substitute for Thompson’s first-person narration in the novella.

Beyond what turns out to be a penchant for murder, Lou’s problems encompass a love for slugging women in the belly and face, dating back to a particularly perverse mother-son relationship. So as a result, maybe it would be going against the material to expect the sex scenes to carry any erotic clout (though, oddly, Winterbottom did once dabble in hardcore with 2004’s 9 Songs). But for such heated material, the treatment here is extremely cool, and this extends to a maladroit score of honky-tonk that works against the drama.

What’s left is one of the more interesting career-trackers of recent days (all three principals are featured in the DVD/Blu-ray bonus section). Plus a mildly memorable murder/cover-up drama with some adequately absorbing police procedural touches as the growing number of locals who sense that something about Lou isn’t “right” come to include some of his colleagues. They also include certain outsiders, and Lou doesn’t treat them right. One moral here is never to react to a street panhandler’s beckoning by putting out a cigarette on his outstretched palm. He might get militantly vengeful.

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