On DVD: Killer Inside Me Now Viewable in the Discomfort of Your Own Home

In what movie can you see a bare-assed Jessica Alba get spanked with a belt, and Kate Hudson spit in disgust after fellatio because she tasted the residue of another woman, (and get spanked, too), and both them get beat to death or nearly so? Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me caught some hell from critics for its salacious excesses, at the very least because the woman-hating brutality was interspersed with lallygagging patches of deadpan Texas neo-noir, and so seemed as calculated as punches in the face.

You wonder why Winterbottom and his compatriots felt compelled to re-adapt Jim Thompson's 1952 paperback, so long after the Thompson renaissance of the '80s and early '90s (After Dark My Sweet, The Grifters, The Getaway) had passed. Then you see protagonist Casey Affleck, without a glint of expression, break Alba's face with a rain of haymakers, trying to kill her as if he was driving fence posts, and you think, "Oh, that's why."

But I don't think it's so simple. Winterbottom has made a lot of terrific movies, and there's little sign so far that he's a misogynistic douche. The largest hurdle to be jumped is Thompson's book itself, which is a stream of self-conscious sociopathy all told in first-person from the perspective of Lou Ford, the placid and unassuming deputy sheriff in a squalid prairie town after the war. Reading it, you're complicit with his every psycho rationale and execution, and it's not a fun book to get lost in. (It famously creeped Stanley Kubrick out, and he knew Thompson well from working on two films with him.) But like all first-person, interior-monologue novels, the task of making it into a film, into an objective experience you can watch, is like trying to make lemonade out of tomatoes. Instead of sharing the experience, queasily, we're watching it from a guilty distance, with no connection to the inner dynamics that fuel it. We're closer to the victim than the perp. Narration comes halfway at best to solving this, but Thompson's intention is scuttled.

Winterbottom isn't alone; movie history is littered with films that hit the same first-person wall, from various versions of The Great Gatsby to -- can't hardly wait -- the upcoming movie made from Jonathan Safran Foer's Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close. And it would, in any case, be difficult to stump for making a movie about a violent sociopath that doesn't display graphic violence. The three leads, on the DVD's skimpy promotional extras, have little to add to the conversation, only that the script was "different" because it was "dark."

But the film's got plenty of juice otherwise, beyond the unholy spectacle of Alba and a relatively zaftig Hudson's vampy degradations -- the period flavor is tangy, the acting (especially Affleck, who may be a little too aw-shucks-looking for his own good) is mint, and Winterbottom's gimlet eye is still powerful. (The tableau image of Hudson unconscious on the floor, her dress up over her head, a pool of urine spreading beneath her, is hard to forget.) As just a new retro-noir pulp ode added to Thompson's already fearsome pile, The Killer Inside Me is adept and nasty and beautifully executed. But since we're outside the movie, not in, it'll always be a half-measure.