The premise of The Killer Inside Me — based on Jim Thompson's 1952 crime novel and directed by Michael Winterbottom — could be summed up in a classified ad: Texas cop with pleasant boyish demeanor seeks compliant dames for sadistic sex games culminating in murder.
Thompson's fearsome tale is recounted in the first person by a blatantly unreliable narrator. Foisting himself on the world as a gentlemanly, platitude-spouting Jimmy Stewart type, Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is less a character than an act. The ease with which the killer-cop outwits the other characters is matched only by the apparent rationality with which this self-conscious psychopath explicates his increasingly brutal crimes.
Winterbottom's version is Classic Comics. The characters are stiffly drawn, the action is fastidiously staged, the production design is self-consciously retro. There's no shortage of cheap thrills, though. Lou smiles affably as he stubs out his cigarette in a derelict's outstretched palm or sets about beating his adoring punching bags — a hot hooker (Jessica Alba) and a hard-faced schoolteacher (Kate Hudson) — until they're black-and-blue or much, much worse.
Winterbottom's greatest asset is Affleck, convincing enough to keep The Killer Inside Me from being just a steamy, stylish, punishing bloodbath.