Friday, July 2, 2010
Host Maureen Cavanaugh discusses "The Killer Inside Me" with critics Beth Accomando, Scott Marks, and Anders Wright on the KPBS Film Club of the Air.
"The Killer Inside Me" (opening July 2 at Landmark's Ken Cinema) is based on Jim Thompson's 1950s pulp novel of the same name. Listen to our KPBS Film Club of the Air discussion.
I have not read any of Jim Thompson's pulp fiction but after this discussion I'm tempted to go out and buy some. But whether you've read Thompson or you've never "The Killer Inside Me," this latest film adaptation of Thompson's work falls short. Director Michael Winterbottom has been working in a variety of film genres and in a way this feels like an exercise, another genre for him to tackle and add to his list of accomplishments. But the film he has made reveals no love for the genre or insights into it. Instead, it feels oddly detached. So despite some brutal violence and a serial killer as the main character, the film left me oddly uninvolved and unmoved. It made me long for the film noirs of the forties and pulp crime fiction adaptations from any era.
Here's our KPBS Film Club of the Air discussion of "The Killer Inside Me."
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. This is the KPBS Film Club of the Air. I’m with Scott Marks, Beth Accomando and Anders Wright. And we move on to the movie “The Killer Inside Me.” In a small Texas town, Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford unexpectedly finds himself involved in a violent, high voltage affair with a local prostitute. But that’s not all that’s unexpected about Lou Ford. In an attempt to settle a family feud, Ford hatches a plot that involves brutal murders which he believes nobody will trace back to him. In this clip from early in the film, Deputy Ford, played by Casey Affleck, gives us some of his thoughts about life in a small town.
(audio of clip from the film “The Killer Inside Me”)
CAVANAUGH: That’s a clip from “The Killer Inside Me” and we hear Casey Affleck as Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford. Scott, before we get into talking about the film, let’s provide a little context. This movie is based on a pulp fiction novel by Jim Thompson. Who was Jim Thompson?
SCOTT MARKS (Emulsion Compulsion film critic): The former governor of Illinois. Okay. Jim Thompson is – they call – they refer to him as the Dostoevsky of suspense fiction. I read “The Killer Inside Me” years ago and as soon as I put it down, I read 12 more Jim Thompson novels. “The Killer Inside Me” is one of the greatest books, for my money, ever written. He never had a book published in hardcover. It was all pulps. Towards the end of his career, and I read this too, he was doing novelizations for “Ironside”…
ANDERS WRIGHT (City Beat film critic): Yeah. Yeah.
MARKS: …with Raymond Burr. You know, he was doing novelizations of movies, you know, where basically they would show him the film and he would sit at a typewriter…
CAVANAUGH: Right, right.
MARKS: …and just adapt it. When I first read “The Killer Inside Me,” there are moments in – First of all, Jim Thompson can do in one sentence what it takes most authors a chapter to do. When someone gets punched in a Jim Thompson novel, you grab your stomach, you grab your jaw. And I’ll give Michael Winterbottom credit, there’s a scene in this film where he brutalizes Jessica Alba, which is letter perfect to the book. I mean, it’s there. That said, when you read the book, you think of Robert Mitchum. Lou Ford is a force of nature. He’s a serial killer. He’s a monster. He is not Casey Affleck.
MARKS: He is not this diminutive guy who talks like this and mumbles throughout the entire film. I don’t like Casey Affleck. I think it’s all show. If anything, I think Ben Affleck would’ve made a better Lou Ford. You need someone big and burly and menacing and threatening. And I know casting against type, it’s almost like putting Elijah Cook, Jr. in this role. I just – I didn’t buy him. Jessica Alba is lovely but she provides little more than a punching bag in this film, and the same with Kate Hudson. But this is all in the novel and it’s essential. And I don’t know that you could really – I think his novels are unfilmable…
MARKS: …because they work so well on the page. They did it once before. Stacy Keach played a Lou Ford in a version of this, I think, in the eighties, which just really didn’t go anywhere either. So Michael Winterbottom is a much more talented director. He’s one of those directors who wants to work in every conceivable genre known to man. I mean, he’s made documentaries. He’s just terrific, just a wonderful, wonderful filmmaker, and this is probably as good an adaptation of this novel as you’re going to find.
CAVANAUGH: Scott, what did – I’m sorry. Anders, what did you think of it?
WRIGHT: Well, I didn’t really have as much of a problem with Casey Affleck but I do feel like they pretty much – He probably got the part based upon his work in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”
WRIGHT: He’s kind of doing the same thing. I think that, you know, it’s fairly well made. You’re absolutely right. I mean, you – Thompson’s language is just blistering. And this movie doesn’t really do that. I think, honestly, it’s so brutal, some of the sequences are so brutal, that most audiences – I mean, it’s hard to watch. It’s really hard to watch. And it’s not sort of movie violence. It feels really, you know, it feels very real, and it’s really, really, unpleasant. But I think that casting Affleck, I mean, part of the deal there is that he isn’t menacing. And one of the things I do like about him, as he said in that little blurb there, he says here, you know, you’re always a man and a gentleman. And he’s always a courteous, kind gentleman-like sort of sociopath throughout the entire thing. I mean, it’s a really interesting movie but it’s not a very enjoyable movie.
CAVANAUGH: Beth, what do you think? In this particular movie, we see outbursts of violence against young women. I’m thinking of “Kickass” where we saw an outburst of violence against a young girl that you really sort…
BETH ACCOMANDO (KPBS film critic): It was more an outburst of violence by a young girl.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, well, I mean, but she got beaten up as well. I’m wondering…
ACCOMANDO: But these women never fight back.
CAVANAUGH: No, they don’t. Tell us about that.
ACCOMANDO: Well, they – All right, they are punching bags essentially. I mean, I had very mixed feelings about it because you guys talk about how violent and brutal it is and yet, on a certain level, the film left me like really lukewarm, like I didn’t – I didn’t feel really moved by it. I didn’t feel angry or wrapped up in it and I think part of it is Casey Affleck because there’s an interesting aspect to that performance in the sense that he is this kind of weasely little guy who’s not very threatening but they don’t really use that to what I think would be a good effect to make him scary by the very fact that he’s not…
MARKS: Yeah, good point.
ACCOMANDO: …viewed as scary.
ACCOMANDO: So it’s like he has these outbursts of violence and he’s able to kind of hide from everyone what he’s doing but we don’t get this sense of how dangerous he is and that’s why the price – because I would’ve gone with that casting. I would’ve said, like, okay, fine, you know, go it against type of – yeah, Mitchum was exactly who I was…
WRIGHT: Yeah, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: I mean, because he has that sense of menace when…
MARKS: And gentleman behavior as well.
ACCOMANDO: But also – but it…
MARKS: You can do that in “Cape Fear.” Yeah.
ACCOMANDO: But what Mitchum had was menace with this kind of bland, deadpan surface…
MARKS: Oh, baby, I don’t care, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, you know, so – That, and he had…
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, right, right.
ACCOMANDO: And he had that mastered. And Casey Affleck just seemed to have the blandness down…
ACCOMANDO: …without the menace. And so it was just frustrating me because I kept feeling like I should be more affected by this and I should be more – I feel like I should’ve been more shocked by it but there was a certain level where it just…
WRIGHT: Like the menace is more in his actions than his character in some ways.
CAVANAUGH: Didn’t you find that there were a number of…
ACCOMANDO: Of course, I think he was disassociated from his character.
CAVANAUGH: Didn’t you find there were a number of false notes in this movie? For instance, in that clip that we heard, you know, people think that they know you and he basically thinks that the people in the small town won’t suspect him, and immediately they suspect him of these murders like three hours later.
MARKS: But this is like – that’s Lou Ford.
MARKS: That defines Lou Ford perfectly. And you were talking earlier about how the women don’t fight back. Don’t forget, the relationship that he has with both these women is really founded on rough trade. They like rough sexual abuse.
ACCOMANDO: Especially the Jessica Alba character.
WRIGHT: But they – but neither of them see this coming, too.
WRIGHT: This comes out of nowhere.
MARKS: …of course. It’s Lou Ford.
WRIGHT: And, I mean, it’s – Yeah, absolutely, that’s just it, and they’re going – I mean, there’s no kind of reason or way that they would. I mean, these are brutal acts that he’s committed.
CAVANAUGH: It couldn’t very well be that you need to read the book before you see this movie because I’ll tell you, it kind – while I was looking at it, I thought, you know, this make – this probably makes a better book.
MARKS: As Anders says, it’s Thompson’s use of language, and the screenplay just doesn’t capture it.
WRIGHT: But you can’t. I mean, you know…
MARKS: You’re right. You can’t.
WRIGHT: You – He wouldn’t have been able to do it himself.
WRIGHT: I mean, that’s always the tricky thing about, you know, a film version of anything that you’ve read and that you love and that you know that’s part of yours. I mean, you’re watching Michael Winterbottom’s version of that book, you’re not watching Jim Thompson’s.
ACCOMANDO: But even then, I mean, the film has to stand on its own two feet and I just don’t think that it worked on its own merit. I mean, if you divorce it from the book and you come at it not having read the book at all, I still don’t think…
MARKS: Have you read the book?
ACCOMANDO: No, I haven’t read the book.
MARKS: Have you read anything by Thompson?
MARKS: You’d love them. You’d love him.
WRIGHT: Do you think if they had cast someone else in that role with – who had a little more menace to him it would’ve come together a little more?
ACCOMANDO: I think it would’ve come together a little more. To me, it was a pretty glossy film. I mean, there’s a surface, you know, everything kind of happened – most of the scenes happened during the daytime. It’s kind of this sunny, you know, demeanor to everything. But it wasn’t used as kind of in contrast to the darkness that some of these characters exhibited. And I just – I guess what it was for me, I felt it was kind of – I felt removed from the film.
ACCOMANDO: Like I’m watching it from a distance and I’m not really caring that much about what’s going on.
WRIGHT: No, I mean, I wonder, though – that’s sort of like a – that is sort of like what a sociopath is like in terms of the – not on you but…
ACCOMANDO: I’m a sociopath.
WRIGHT: …in terms of their relationship to the rest of the world. I mean, you sort of wonder if that’s…
ACCOMANDO: Well, I mean, a film that I think was similar kind of a bit in tone was “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”…
ACCOMANDO: …where it’s Michael Rooker, kind of is this bland, you know, if he walked through a room nobody would probably notice him. And he portrays this serial killer who goes around killing people and his kind of M.O. is if I don’t kill two people in the same way, nobody’s probably going to…
WRIGHT: Right, right.
ACCOMANDO: …catch me.
WRIGHT: And he’s terrifying in that movie.
ACCOMANDO: And he’s terrifying.
ACCOMANDO: And the same thing, that film is done and it’s kind of all during daytime and you are removed from everything. It’s kind of a cold film and you feel this detachment but that film was really scary…
ACCOMANDO: …and creepy.
CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, I think one thing we all agree with, whether you see the movie or not, definitely read the book. “The Killer Inside Me” opens on July 2 at Landmark’s Ken Cinemas.