Psycho killer doesn’t quite cut it in adaptation
Pulp-novel genius Jim Thompson, whose 1963 book “The Grifters” inspired one of the best neo-noir films of the ’90s, certainly crafted his share of big-screen-friendly antiheroes. Lou Ford, the Andy Griffith-meets-”American Psycho” star of “The Killer Inside Me,” is not one of them.
As he narrates the bloody action on the pages of “Killer,” Ford is elusive, taunting and possessed of a mean, brutal wit. We know he’s fooling the smalltown neighbors he despises. But is he fooling himself as well? Or us?
That ambiguity helps make the novel Thompson’s finest, but it doesn’t translate well in the new film by director Michael Winterbottom — who did better
with another “unfilmable” book, the pre-post-modern classic “Tristram Shandy.”
Here, Lou Ford is a duller entity — twisted and deceitful, to be sure, but lacking the savage spark that animates the book. It doesn’t help that Casey Affleck, a talented actor miscast in this role, lacks the kind of external good-ol’boy-ness that hides Ford’s psychoses from the citizens who trust him with a badge in this 1950s West Texas town. Affleck mumbles thoughtfully where Ford would spout corny platitudes; his eyes are secretive where Ford’s would project dumb innocence.
The lawman is anything but innocent. He commits murders on screen that are depicted with such explicit brutality they’ve been sparking debates about movie violence (against women, in particular) since the film hit the festival circuit. Jessica Alba, as a prostitute with whom Ford has a nasty affair, takes the worst abuse — and, sickeningly, her character seems to forgive Ford even while he’s destroying her pretty face.
There’s room for good-faith positions on either side of that ethical argument. (Winterbottom, naturally, believes that making viewers feel each jawcrunching blow is the morally responsible choice.)
But the problem for “Killer” is that it is tone-deaf on other fronts as well — from the Western swing on the soundtrack, turning what should be nailbiting moments into jauntily ironic ones, to the unsatisfying friction between personalities when folks finally start Jessica Alba plays a prostitute who suffers some of the film’s already notorious brutality. to suspect that Ford has something to do with all the dead bodies popping up around his county.
Most unforgivable is the way Winterbottom and screenwriter John Curran flub the novel’s suspense, which escalates so deliciously that it becomes almost impossible to stop reading when any given chapter ends.
As its pace falters, this “Killer” becomes not just a disappointment for the novel’s fans and a provocation to sadism-averse moviegoers, but a failure in general — one that should inspire hesitation on the part of any future filmmaker tempted to adapt this novelist’s psychologically twisted, brilliantly plotted stories. Rating: R for violence, nudity, language. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes. Theater: Dobie.
Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson) doesn’t know what she’s in for when she gets into the car with Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) in ‘The Killer Inside Me.’ While he might appear to be the trusted sheriff’s deputy, his darker side will soon emerge.