At its release, the 2010 version was criticised for its graphic depiction of violence directed toward women.
In 1952, Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is a pillar of the community in his small west Texas town — patient, dependable, and well-liked. However, he is a sociopath with violent sexual tastes. As a teenager, Lou was caught raping a five-year-old girl by his adopted brother Mike, who pleaded guilty to the crime and served prison time to protect Lou. After being released, Mike was hired by the construction firm of Chester Conway (Ned Beatty). Mike died on the job after slipping and falling off a beam. Lou believes that Conway staged the "accident".
At the request of Sheriff Bob Maples (Tom Bower), Lou visits Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba), a prostitute who is having an affair with Conway's son, Elmer (Jay R. Ferguson). When Joyce objects to Lou's treatment of her, he violently beats and spanks her until her buttocks are bruised. Joyce enjoys pain, and she and Lou begin a passionate love affair. Joyce suggests that Lou would never leave town with her, but they devise a plot to extort $10,000 from the Conways. Sheriff Maples and Chester Conway ask Lou to oversee the pay-off. But Lou has other plans: he brutally beats Joyce to the point he believes her to be dead, and when Elmer arrives, Lou shoots and kills him. He then plants the gun on Joyce, hoping to make the scene look like the two have killed each other, however Joyce survives the ordeal. Then Conway announces his intention to see her executed for killing Elmer.
Lou's reputation begins to falter: his girlfriend and fiancee Amy (Kate Hudson) suspects him of infidelity, and the county district attorney Howard Hendricks (Simon Baker), who has arrived in town to investigate the murders, suspects that Lou could be the killer. Lou accompanies Sheriff Maples and Conway in taking Joyce to the hospital in Fort Worth; Conway wants her alive so he can interrogate her. Lou waits in a hotel room while the surgery takes place. Maples tells him that Joyce died on the operating table. Lou and Maples return to west Texas.
Back at his home, Lou discovers explicit photographs of a woman inside a Bible. The woman was Helene, a housekeeper and babysitter from his youth who bears a resemblance to Joyce. Lou recalls that Helene introduced him to sadomasochism, urging him to strike her. Lou burns the photos.
Hendricks arrests Johnnie Pappas (Liam Aiken), a local youth whom Lou had previously befriended as a suspect in the murders of Elmer and Joyce. He was found with one of the $20 bills that Elmer was supposed to give to Joyce in the pay-off; Conway had the bills marked in order to blackmail Joyce if she didn't leave town. Because Lou is close to Johnnie, Hendricks asks Lou to persuade him to confess, but it was Lou himself who had given Johnnie the marked $20 bill as a tip. In the prison cell Lou confesses to Johnnie that he was the one responsible. When they are alone in his cell, Lou hangs Johnnie to make it appear as a though he committed suicide out of guilt.
Johnnie's death only makes the town more suspicious of Lou. Journalist and union organizer Joe Rothman (Elias Koteas), who had previously suggested that Conway had Lou's foster brother Mike killed, implies that he knows that Lou killed Elmer and Joyce. Lou coaxes Amy to elope with him as he proposes to her. To sate Lou's violent predilections, she acquiesces to his desire to spank her. An alcoholic bum (Brent Briscoe), whom Lou had previously burnt with a cigar, has been trailing Lou and knows that he was responsible for the murders of Elmer and Joyce. He demands $5,000 to keep quiet, to which Lou agrees. On the day which Lou and Amy had planned to elope, Lou beats Amy to death, and when the bum sees her body, he runs for help. Lou chases the bum, shouting that he has murdered Amy. Another deputy, Jeff Plummer (Matthew Maher) opens fire on the bum, and shoots him dead.
The next morning Plummer informs Lou of Sheriff Maples suicide, convinced of Lou's guilt and heartbroken over his crimes. Hendricks and Plummer try to get a confession from Lou, who cockily refuses. They have a letter that Amy intended to give to him before they eloped, in which Amy begs him to come clean. Lou is arrested, and after a week in prison is sent to an insane asylum. While there, he suffers hallucinations of Amy and Helene. After a few weeks, a slick lawyer named Billy Boy Walker (Bill Pullman) has him released and drives him home. Walker has been hired by Joe Rothman to protect the union man. Lou tells Walker his whole story and concludes that he doesn't want anyone else to die.
Lost in his violent fantasies, Lou douses his home in gasoline and alcohol, arms himself with a knife, and sits in his study to await retribution. As police vehicles and armed policemen arrive, Lou sees a car pull up with Hendricks, Conway, Plummer and the still-alive Joyce. As Joyce tells Lou that she refused to cooperate with the authorities, Lou tells her he loves her, then stabs her in the stomach. Plummer opens fire, hitting both Joyce and Lou and igniting the gasoline in the house. Outside, the approaching policemen see the house engulfed in a huge fireball, which it appears Lou has ignited to kill himself.Casey Affleck as Lou Ford, a West Texas deputy sheriff.
Jessica Alba as Joyce Lakeland, a prostitute.
Kate Hudson as Amy Stanton, Ford's schoolteacher girlfriend.
Ned Beatty as Chester Conway
Tom Bower as Sheriff Bob Maples
Elias Koteas as Joe Rothman
Simon Baker as Howard Hendricks, a county attorney.
Bill Pullman as Billy Boy Walker
Brent Briscoe as Bum / The Stranger / Visitor
Matthew Maher as Deputy Jeff Plummer
Liam Aiken as Johnnie Pappas
Jay R. Ferguson as Elmer Conway
Caitlin Turner as Helene
Numerous filmmakers have attempted to adapt Thompson's novel into a film since the mid-1950s. 20th Century Fox originally optioned the project as a possible starring vehicle for Marilyn Monroe around 1956, with Monroe starring as Joyce Lakeland. Marlon Brando was attached to star as Lou Ford. Elizabeth Taylor was considered at the time for the role of Amy Stanton. After Monroe's unexpected death on August 5, 1962, the project was shelved. A film adaptation was eventually made in 1976, directed by Burt Kennedy and starring Stacy Keach as Lou Ford and Susan Tyrrell as Joyce Lakeland.
In the mid-1980s, there was another attempt to adapt the book into a film, with Tom Cruise as Lou Ford, Brooke Shields as Amy Stanton, and Demi Moore as Joyce Lakeland. The project was shelved. In the mid-1990s, after the success of Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino was attached to direct the project. Uma Thurman was set to star as Amy Stanton. Juliette Lewis was considered for the part of Joyce Lakeland and Brad Pitt was attached to star as Lou Ford. This effort fell through after the September 11 attacks, because the film script was deemed too violent. Tarantino scrapped everything and started from scratch. In 2003, Andrew Dominik wrote a highly stylized screenplay, and was at one point to direct it. He hoped the film would star Leonardo DiCaprio as Lou Ford, Charlize Theron as Amy Stanton and Drew Barrymore as Joyce Lakeland. Dominik lost interest in doing a film adaptation of a 1950s novel, however, and instead chose to film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Marc Rocco stepped in, and wanted to cast Casey Affleck as Lou Ford, Reese Witherspoon as Amy Stanton and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Joyce Lakeland.
The Killer Inside Me premiered on January 24, 2010 at Sundance Film Festival. In January 2010, IFC Films secured the rights of the film for around $1.5 million and announced the theatrical and VOD platforms release on June 9, 2010. It was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival. It is part of the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival and ran on April 27, 2010. The film had a limited theatrical release starting on June 18, 2010. The DVD and Blu-ray were released on September 28, 2010.
The film received generally mixed reviews. Review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes reports that 55% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 125 reviews, with an average score of 5.7/10. The critical consensus is: "The Killer Inside Me is stylish and beautifully shot, but Michael Winterbottom's distance from his characters robs this often brutally violent film of crucial emotional context." Winterbottom, attending the film's world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, got an audience member's review before the credits had finished rolling: "I don't understand how Sundance could book this movie! How dare you? How dare Sundance?" Rachel Cooke of The Observer, after describing a "sickeningly protracted" scene from the film in which Joyce is beaten by Lou, said "I was so queasy, I had to go and stand outside. I thought I might actually faint"; she notes that several of the scenes of violence are "so long and so horribly graphic" and points out that "by lingering only over the violence done to women — by contrast, a male character gets to die off camera — he has, I think, ruined his own picture, drawing the audience's attention away both from its exquisite noir mood, and from Affleck's mesmerising performance. The violence is a bloody blot on an otherwise beautiful canvas."
Stephen Dalton, reviewing the film for The Times after it closed the Berlin Film Festival, acknowledged the controversy over the depiction of violence:
Although Ford's victims include men and women, it is his savage and sustained assaults on female characters that has made The Killer Inside Me controversial. Winterbottom shows these attacks in unflinching detail, a choice some consider unnecessary and exploitative. In fairness, the violence is sparingly used, which only makes it more stomach-churning. And compared to recent Tarantino or Coen brothers bloodbaths, this is restrained stuff. The film's critics, I suspect, have made the classic mistake of confusing content for intent.
Dalton, giving the film four stars out of five, called it a "thoughtful thriller which will bore some viewers with its low-key pacing, while repelling others with its flashes of sickening brutality. But for the less squeamish among us, The Killer Inside Me is an intelligent and gripping take on classic film noir ingredients." Affleck's portrayal of the sociopathic deputy divided reviewers, and was pointed to as one example of the film's many failures to measure up to both the original film and the character's personality and bearing in the source novel. Critics cited his boyish appearance and mannerisms, and "occasionally goofy, stilted" delivery as lacking the intensity such a role required. Despite receiving fairly decent reviews, Jessica Alba nonetheless still received a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress for her performance in this film as well as being cited for her work in Little Fockers, Machete and Valentine's Day.