I finally got around to seeing Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me (living in the sticks as I do at the moment makes cinema going difficult). For me, it was even more violent and unsettling than I'd expected. At the same time, it is, as far as I'm concerned, the most faithful, adaptation of a Jim Thompson novel yet, coming closer than any other adaptation to replicating the feel and intensity of a Thompson novel. No other adaptation comes close, which isn't to say that the likes of Frears' Grifters or Foley's After Dark, My Sweet are bad films, but they only successfully caught the essence of Thompson in isolated moments. Winterbottom's is obviously not an easy film to watch, nor should it be. Like reading Thompson, watching the movie should be an unsettling experience- not without traces of extremely dark, sometimes surreal, humor. But if one comes away from a Thompson novel not feeling squeamish then you have either not been reading it very closely or you've desensitized yourself to a worrying degree. How dishonest it would be for a director, in adapting Thompson, to sanitise him, to make him more acceptable to a wider audience. Winterbottom's film, beautifully shot by Marcel Zyskind, and excellently-cast, did have occasional lapses if compared to the novel. But that's understandable, given the need to condense the narrative- for example, Lou's talk with Johnny Papas was much longer in the novel, and made the latter's death more understandable. And of course there were moments when the film did take liberties that weren't always necessary. But for the most part the film stayed fairly faithful to Thompson's dialogue and inner hell, while capturing the small-town sleaziness of the novel. Unlike past adaptations which have been a little too glossy for my liking. But I think it's healthy that the film has been attacked for its violence. It should be, because a discussion of violence in movies is necessary, and should be ongoing. Misogynistic violence shouldn't be fun to watch; it should unendurable. And last but not least, Winterbottom's film has a killer soundtrack, reminiscent, like another less violent but equally elegiac portrayal of 1950s Texas, The Last Picture Show, though the two films couldn't be more different.
London-based journalist and author of Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War; Neon Noir: Contemporary American Crime Fiction; and Heartbreak and Vine: The Fate of Hardboiled Writers in Hollywood.