Jim Thompson adaptations are always difficult sells to me. There is something about his writing that is really hard to capture on film. The Sam Peckinpah version of the Getaway is probably the best. Or maybe the Grifters. But neither really achieve the level of scum that Jim Thompson novels do and I think both play it really safe with the material. Then there is The Killer Inside Me (The new one, there's an older version I haven't seen with Stacey Keach in the lead role).
I think Michael Winterbottom is the first director to get the look right. The idyllic setting and scenery of this movie is the only balance to Lou Ford's violent misogyny. Unfortunately it can't outweigh it by any stretch of the imagination. The novel, which I read years ago, is interesting because of how far you delve into the head of the character. You realize pretty quick that you are dealing with a sickening narrator and you keep reading in the manner of a car accident, so gruesome and unceasing. In the book you cannot get away from Lou Ford, he is unrelenting. In the movie he is simply there on screen, he is not alive the way he is in the book. This is what the movie lacks, access to the killer inside of Lou Ford. At one point he says to a friend, "I'm always standing with my legs on both sides of the fence," or something to that effect but you don't buy it because you can't see it. Winterbottom's only real attempt to capture it is the sort of meek narration that Lou Ford provides and a few flash backs. It isn't enough. You need to be immersed in the character for it to work. Otherwise he is just a misogynist psychopath.
The other issue with being separated from the character Lou Ford is that the women in the movie seem to continue to faun over him as he beats them. In the book you know you are inside of him and you would expect a character such as Lou Ford to believe such a thing. In the movie however they just seem like helpless women, especially Joyce played by Jessica Alba, who can't help it. It sort of gives us a dim view of Michael Winterbottom's feelings toward women. It doesn't seem intentional however, just an unfortunate by product of adapting the novel to film.
Casey Affleck is pretty amazing in the role however. I don't think any of the folly of the movie falls on is shoulders. He is scarier to me than Christian Bale was in American Psycho. In fact, I think the Killer Inside Me makes American Psycho look particularly cartoonish. The scenes of brutality against the two women characters are shown full force. They are particularly hard to watch. When I heard they were making this movie I wondered about those two scenes and how they would handle them. I didn't expect they would do it like this. They are real terrifying scenes and to think of a man actually doing this to a woman makes me feel sick. I didn't get any of that with American Psycho. I think Casey Affleck is one of the small handful of actors making good choices in films these days. He was great in The Assassination of Jesse James as well as Lonesome Jim and Gerry. He's also the best part of Good Will Hunting because he masturbates into an old baseball mitt (offscreen).