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August 16, 2010 | by  | in Film |
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The Killer Inside Me

The Killer Inside Me
Director: Michael Winterbottom

Near the end of The Killer Inside Me, there’s a moment when psychotic lawman Lou Ford makes a glib observation regarding the characters surrounding him: “The gang’s all here—Howard Hendricks, the DA; Chester Conway, the villain; Hank Butterbean—don’t say anything, Hank, I haven’t given you any lines.” It’s a slight moment, but regardless of how you interpret the film’s final act, it acts as a gateway to many of the film’s themes. This is because it reveals The Killer Inside Me as not just a portrait of a violent, misanthropic lunatic in sheep’s clothing; in fact, it is as much a rumination on the nature of violence, the nature of fiction, and the nature of identity.

The film’s ostensible protagonist is Lou, a small-town deputy whom everyone knows as a stand-up guy—but as director Michael Winterbottom and screenwriter John Curran peel away the layers of lies and deceptions that define Lou, we are given a glimpse into a black, sociopathic heart, one bereft of even basic human empathy. Lou’s moral compass isn’t so much skewed as it is stuck on a moral magnetic pole, going haywire; for him, violence is simply a natural method of expressing himself that he’s had to keep hidden for fear of transgressing.

As a character study of a man in name only, the film definitely succeeds—Casey Affleck gives an excellent portrayal of the deceptive, distant Ford, and the way he chews and dribbles out his dialogue suggests a blasé attitude that chills to the bone. But the film also examines the nature of what makes us what we are and what makes characters what they are; small hints like the above line, or Lou recalling his “laughing” at the ridiculousness of needing to kill people before resigning himself to it, call us to question Lou’s ease with the lies he lives in and the actions he’s compelled to perform. Winterbottom’s anti-auteur status means it’s difficult to tell whether he’s riffing on noir films or simply doing what’s stylistically expected, and other characters are often sidelined in order to develop Ford, but the end result is effective despite this—it’s a brutal, uncompromising tale of violence, the monster inside all men and women.

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