There are times when I know in advance that watching a film is going to be tough going but I’ll watch it because it is getting good reviews and I admire the people behind it. It is a strange sensation, the build-up to the day involving me psyching myself up for what it is to come. It is even weirder trying to write notes about it afterwards.
I think Michael Winterbottom is a genuinely interesting and artistic director who can turn his hand to anything and makes intelligent and personal films. But the only question that was asked when this film came out was: ‘Is the film misogynistic?’ This is the elephant in the room when you mention The Killer Inside Me, and it’s also the lasting impression from the movie.
The film is a straight adaptation of the Jim Thompson novel and is set in a small town in Texas in the 1950s. It is about Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), who seems to be a polite gentleman but is a psychopath. This is revealed not just in the killing of people, but in the brutal manner in which he does it and the cool-eyed calm he keeps after the events. The story is told well, the acting is excellent – Affleck is mesmerising in the lead role, there are some strong turns from Ned Beatty, Elias Koteas, Simon Baker and Bill Pullman, and Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson are very good in their fatal roles – the atmosphere feels authentic, and the film is undoubtedly a very good film.
The problem comes down to the killing of the women in the film: these are deliberately distressing scenes, unremitting in their depiction of the violence and its effects, making you complicit in the acts, making you want to look away. They are deeply disturbing, as they should be; however, it is supposed to be horrible watching a man punch a woman repeatedly in the face in an effort to kill her, all the while saying how much he loves her. But, in an industry where violence against women is used as a plot point (the number of films where the girlfriend or wife is killed to give the hero a reason for revenge, or where the woman is used as the damsel in distress, casually using violence against women with no regard for them is more disturbing), the reality being shown is supposed to arresting. I don’t think that Winterbottom has made a misogynistic film; he has made a moral film (you do not sympathise with the lead character, and he does not escape justice, although the ending is not happy because it is a noir film) which is deliberately difficult to watch in places; it does not glorify violence, unlike the majority of Hollywood action films. I’m glad I saw it because it is a very good film that challenged me and affected me, but I don’t think I’ll ever need to see it again.