Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Killer Inside Me

Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me has all the elements of a film that I should have loved: a dusty West Texas landscape, the period setting of the 1950's, Jim Thompson's great pulp novel as its source material, the always underrated Casey Affleck in the leading role. The film has generated some moral outrage in the UK and my friend and colleague Declan Burke has written about that in the Irish Times and in his review here.
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My problem is with the picture itself which is an interesting character study oddly unbalanced by a ghastly, luridly-filmed act of misogynistic violence in the first half. Remember when the cop got his ear cut off in Reservoir Dogs while Michael Madsen danced to Steeler's Wheel? No, actually you don't remember that, because Quentin Tarantino had the camera cut away during that scene to look at a blank wall for four or five seconds. TKIM's director, Michael Winterbottom, feels that the human imagination is not rich enough to visualise a woman getting beaten to a pulp and that that act must be shown in hardcore close up. Winterbottom has defended himself by saying that he is being true to the novel which will surprise anyone who has read the book. Unlike say Thomas Harris or Patsy Cornwell, Jim Thompson has no patience for pages and pages of torture (or pages and pages of anything). Winterbottom doesn't get off the hook by claiming that this is Jim Thompson's vision, it isn't, it's his.
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I had part of the same problem with Kick Ass which I felt was creepy and unpleasant, made more leaden by dull schoolboy humour and then that penultimate scene where a child is viciously beaten in lingering detail. I'm with Roger Ebert on this one, not the hipsters. But back to TKIM, Michael Winterbottom has attempted to do the trick of having his cake and eat it too: in theory condemning brutal sadistic violence against women but also being careful to show us every blow that disfigures a beautiful face. TKIM reminded me of one of those True Detective magazines or those shows on serial killers that pretend to be factual studies but actually appeal to the more salacious instincts of humanity.
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Can one dreadful scene ruin a great film? Probably not, but can it ruin a good film? Yeah, I think so. I couldn't quite concentrate on TKIM after that and was quite glad when it was over.
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Of course every generation complains that the world is going to the dogs but the triumph of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the Saw franchise, Kick Ass etc. leads me to wonder if our culture has been sufficiently desensitised so that brutal violence against women is now considered to be as necessary for the success of a book or film as the obligatory sex scene or the fight between the hero and the villain at the end. God, I really hope not.