The Killer Inside Me may be the darkest film noir ever made. Adapted from a novel by Jim Thompson, it's set in a small Texas oil town in the early '50s, and it's got a main character I hesitate to call him a hero whose hidden impulses look, for a while, as if they might speak to the audience's collective fantasies of bad behavior. Casey Affleck, acting with the same ambiguous baby-faced twistedness he brought to The Assassination of Jesse James..., plays Lou, a deputy sheriff who is sent to kick a prostitute (Jessica Alba) out of town and winds up in a violently charged sexual relationship with her. They smack each other around (in and out of bed), and you can just about smell the nastiness. It's exciting to see a noir in which that erotic steam-heat madness is now made explicit.
Then Lou, to settle an old score, commits a double homicide. And the way he does it, turning one victim's face into a pulped punching bag, is beyond shocking. In their midnight-of-the-soul way, the old noirs were romances, with men drawn to violence through love. Lou, however, isn't driven by love. If anything, he's repulsed by it he's the kind of self-involved sociopath who might scare Tom Ripley. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, The Killer Inside Me has an artful sun-and-dust realism, but as Lou betrays, lies, and murders again, our identification with him is slowly severed. The film doesn't suck us into a vortex it leaves us on the outside, staring and a bit dumbfounded. B-