The Killer Inside Me (Blu-ray)
The works of pulp novelist Jim Thompson continue to tempt filmmakers, but the results have rarely been successful. Neither version of The Getaway quite works, nor does the James Foley-directed adaptation of After Dark, My Sweet. To date the most successful English-language film adaptation of a Thompson book is 1990's The Grifters.
The Killer Inside Me was a favorite of Stanley Kubrick, with whom Thompson co-wrote the screenplay for Paths of Glory. The project bounced around for years, with a variety of people attached in front of and behind the camera (including, at one point, Tom Cruise). When the film finally went into production, the director was protean British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, and the star was the sometimes inscrutable (and frequently underestimated) Casey Affleck. The result is a quietly bleak film noir that plays out in the hot sunlight of 1950s Texas. Thompson would have appreciated the understatement.
Studio: MPI Home Video
Film Length: 109 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Codec: AVC
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1; English PCM 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish
Disc Format: 1 25GB
Theatrical Release Date: Jan. 24, 2010 (Sundance); June 18, 2010 (U.S. limited)
Blu-ray Release Date: Sept. 28, 2010
Lou Ford (Affleck) is a deputy sheriff in a small town in West Texas. Soft-spoken and laconic, he’s the very image of an upright citizen. In the film’s opening scene, Lou’s boss, Sheriff Bob Maples (Tom Bower), sends Lou to check out a relatively new arrival in town: a single woman, Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba), who is probably a prostitute. As we will later learn, Sheriff Maples isn’t just doing his civic duty. In this town, not much happens that doesn’t somehow lead back to the main mover and shaker, local builder Chester Conway (Ned Beatty).
When Lou goes to see Joyce, she tries to bribe him, but Lou isn’t receptive. Joyce has quite a mouth, and as she yells at Lou, something strange crosses his placid face. The scene erupts in violence, sweat and passion.
Now Lou begins to lead a double life, because he already has a long-time girlfriend: Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson), who’s attentive and eager, but can’t reach whatever depths Joyce has stirred inside Lou. (Brief flashbacks to Lou’s childhood provide a few hints of what lies beneath his calm surface.) The situation gets complicated when Conway enlists Lou to pay Joyce a substantial bribe so that she’ll leave town. Conway’s son, Elmer (Jay R. Ferguson), has fallen for her and is thinking of doing something foolish, like proposing.
Lou agrees to assist Conway, because he thinks it may give him an opportunity to settle old scores. He’s recently received some interesting information from Joe Rothman (Elias Koteas), head of a local union that’s having problems with Conway. It seems that Conway may have had something to do with the death of Lou’s adopted brother some years earlier, under questionable circumstances.
From this point onward, Lou saunters down the primrose path to hell, but the path isn’t a straight one, and it wouldn’t be fair to reveal the entertaining turns. Further colorful characters appear along the way, including The Mentalist’s Simon Baker as Hendricks, the local D.A., who’s an outsider to the town but knows his job; Brent Briscoe as a vagrant who makes the mistake of asking Lou for a handout; Johnnie Pappas as Liam, the teenage son of a local diner owner who keeps asking Lou to keep his kid out of trouble; Bill Pullman as Billy Boy Walker, a colorful defense attorney; and Matthew Maher as Jeff Plummer, another deputy sheriff who becomes increasingly suspicious of Lou.
As bleak and often brutal as The Killer Inside Me becomes, director Winterbottom still knows how to squeeze moments of dark comedy out of the ease with which baby-faced Lou glides among the townspeople committing heinous misdeeds with apparent impunity just because he has a nice smile and a badge. The only people who suspect him immediately are Hendricks, the outsider, and Rothman, who appears to be a kindred spirit. As he did in both Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James, Affleck demonstrates his gift for underplaying, which lets him show Lou as something more complex than a garden-variety movie psycho. Lou is not an unfeeling monster. Indeed, his crimes arise from deeply felt passions. It’s his misfortune that some of those passions conflict with each other in a way that can only be resolved by murder. And then he has to keep killing to cover up the first crime.
Winterbottom’s directorial style is typically cool and detached, and it suits this material well. By maintaining a degree of distance, the director lets us get just familiar enough with Lou to be uncomfortable – and then we say goodbye.
The image on MPI’s Blu-ray is clean and detailed. Cinematographer Marcel Zyskind, Winterbottom’s usual collaborator, has given the film a brightly lit but flattened and slightly dull look. This is a dusty, small-town world, but the Blu-ray lets you see every detail, including the unusually ornate furnishing of the house Lou inherited, where he doesn’t seem to have changed anything. The occasional night scenes have adequate black levels, but they do not appear to have been lit or processed for deep blackness. This may be a noir world, but you can always see what’s happening. I did not see any evidence of noise reduction or any other process that produced digital artifacts.
The DTS lossless track provides excellent reproduction of Lou’s voiceover narration, as well as the dialogue. The original score (credited to Joel Cadbury and Melissa Parmenter) is well-reproduced but far less memorable than the wonderful collection of old and appropriately crackly records suitable to the period. Surround effects are used sparingly, but to great effect when they occur, e.g., a near collision on a highway at night. There is also a PCM 2.0 track, to which I did not listen.
Making of with Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba & Kate Hudson (SD; 2.35:1, centered in 4:3) (2:49; 2:44; 2:55). These are three versions of the same promotional short. Each consists of footage from the film, intercut with brief snippets of interviews with the three stars. As suggested by the running times, these are too short to be informative.
Trailers. The film’s trailer is included in HD. At startup the disc plays trailers in standard definition, enhanced for 16:9, for The Good, The Bad, The Weird and Boogie Woogie. These are not otherwise available from the “Bonus” menu.
There is probably some cultural significance in the fact that the most successful film adaptations of Thompson’s work to date have been made by non-Americans: the British Stephen Frears (The Grifters) and Winterbottom; and the French Bertrand Tavernier (Coup de torchon). Thompson was always something of an outsider, and so are his protagonists. Maybe it takes an outsider to understand them.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
SVS SB12-Plus sub