Movies that try to delve into the psychology of sociopathic killers have an inherent issue that distances the work from the audience. It’s not, actually, that the audience can’t connect with a killer, it’s that the movie usually has little to actually say about the state of being a killer. Even Ingmar Bergman hit this with From The Life of Marionettes, a film that purported to delve into the psychology of a killer but ended up feeling like someone who didn’t understand killing trying to figure it out more than anything else. That’s not quite the problem that Michael Winterbottom had with The Killer Inside Me, though. Instead, Winterbottom, adapting the pulp novel by Jim Thompson, simply did not try to say anything about a killer. He just shows us one.
It all starts when Lou Ford, a sheriff’s deputy from a small Texas town, is sent to the edge of town to have a talk with the local prostitute, Joyce. She becomes abusive, he becomes abusive back, and they end up instantly becoming some weird kind of co-dependent, enjoying the abuse that they give each other and getting off of it sexually. And right at the beginning, the movie falters with this core relationship. I kept waiting for something more to come of it, but there’s literally nothing else. Abuse becomes affection to extreme levels. The focus is really on Ford, not Joyce, so I’m ready to forgive the film Joyce’s vapidity, but we’re still left with Ford.
And the movie never really bothers to give us reasons for Ford’s psychotic tendencies beyond fractured images from his youth that tied physical abuse and sex through his mother. When he later takes a plan of Joyce’s to kill the local real estate kingpin’s son and take his money and twists it by beating Joyce to death as well, she, as she gags for breath through her blood, repeats his calls of love. The movie’s not interested in why, merely showing us the how and the what.
And I think that’s where the movie ends up faltering most egregiously. It’s told from Ford’s point of view, but Ford isn’t even curious about the dual nature within him. On the outside, he’s pleasant and almost childlike. On the inside his a sociopath with no feelings and the occasional yearning to beat someone he loves to death. That’s it. That’s the extent of the search into his character, and for a character piece, that becomes really frustrating. It feels like the movie’s just spinning its wheels for most of its runtime.
I think the point of the film is that there is no explanation for Ford’s psychopathy, but the package that that idea is wrapped in doesn’t hold it together. It ends up feeling like a short film stretched to feature length rather than a story that needs one hundred minutes to tell.
Casey Affleck is fine as Ford. The rest of the cast is fine. It’s well made and looks good, but it just feels empty.