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Michael Winterbottom’s Psycho “Killer”

Michael Winterbottom’s Psycho “Killer” (photo)

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Michael Winterbottom is a fast talker. Which seems in character — he’s also a quick, prolific filmmaker, tirelessly turning out a movie a year in genres ranging wide, from meta-literary adaptation “A Cock and Bull Story” to hardcore romance “9 Songs” to 2008’s Colin Firth-led family drama “Genova,” still without a distributor. His newest — for now — is “The Killer Inside Me,” itself one of two films (along with Naomi Klein-based documentary “The Shock Doctrine”) he had showing at Sundance this year.

It can be hard to imagine people getting incensed about on-screen violence in our hardened times, but “The Killer Inside Me” has the dubious distinction of managing just that. Adapted from a Jim Thompson novel, the film’s an exhilarating, nihilistic kick-to-the-teeth of a noir tale with a star-filled cast, centered on and narrated by small-town sheriff Lou Ford (played by Casey Affleck) whose explosive affair with local prostitute Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba) brings out a hidden dark streak a few miles wide.

A scene in which a woman is savagely, graphically beaten has made the film a hotly discussed point of controversy since that first Park City screening, during which there were reportedly more than a few walk-outs. I got a chance to talk with Winterbottom before the film played at the Tribeca Film Festival, where, perhaps better warned, the audience mostly stayed put. [SPOILERS follow]

06172010_killerinsideme12.jpgJim Thompson is one of those writers people tend to say is very difficult to put on screen. Do you agree? Did you have any sense of that before going in to this adaptation?

When I read “Killer Inside Me” — and I think it’s a great book — what interested me was that you could actually make the film as literal as possible. You could almost use the book as a script. So in that sense, it wasn’t difficult. The plot kicks in right at the beginning, about five pages [in].

Lou Ford has met Joyce Lakeland. He’s hit by her, hits her back, has sex with her, falls in love with her. It’s a good, fast start to the story, and Thompson keeps that pace going all the way through, and also writes great dialogue. So actually, one of the attractions of Jim Thompson was that it seemed easy to make a film of his book.

06152010_killerinsideme01.jpgWe’re told by Lou how he’s perceived by the town, but from our perspective, he takes a dive into the dark side, as you say, very quickly. How internal is the film supposed to be?

It’s difficult. When you read the book, obviously it’s Lou Ford telling the story, and as it goes on, you become more and more aware of how unreliable a narrator he is. We tried to keep that element in the film, so it starts off with his voiceover. You’re aware that this is Lou’s point of view. He’s in every scene — you never really see what’s going on when he’s not there, so that reinforces that it’s his version of what happened.

Film obviously feels more objective than a book does. You’re less aware of the unreliable nature of what you’re seeing in a film. Within the film, there are a few moments, like Lou looking to camera, where we try to give a slightly uneasy possibility about him and his awareness of this being a story.

I wanted to keep the idea that this is a fiction, very closely based on a book that has a lot of fictional elements to it. And this is a story being told within that book, by someone who’s not necessarily telling absolutely the truth. I hope people see this as Lou’s version of the story, but I didn’t want to push it to the extent to which it’s a post-modern “it’s all a story, it doesn’t matter, you don’t have to worry about it.”

06152010_killerinsideme05.jpgYou’ve made films that play with unreliable narrators and levels of storytelling before, and I didn’t feel this was in that realm — but at the same time, it’s so rich with noir tropes, noir characters, that there does seem to be a sense of remove, of occasional air quotes, maybe?

By the end of the book, when it all goes into flames, you’re very aware that the person telling you the story is dead — that is a noir convention. But, especially in the book, you feel [all along] you’re going to get some outside perspective on Lou, or realize this is where Lou is now and he’s repented, he’s writing this from his cell… Instead it just keeps going and going. One of the great things about the ending is you’re expecting it to come to some other sort of conclusion and he just carries on and does even bigger things.

There’s also a wish fulfillment element about the end — he wants to be caught, he wants to die, he wants to bring everyone down with him. Setting fire to his dad’s house is symbolically cathartic because he’s been living in the shadow of his dad, the pillar of the community.

So there’s a sense that it’s a fantasy ending, but it’s not as though there’s a real story that’s different from that. I did an adaptation of “Tristram Shandy” which was very playful — I didn’t want to do that again. In this case, I wanted to be as literal and straightforward and unplayful as possible in terms of trying to just film the book.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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