Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Killer Inside Him (Not Me)

Back in '98, I had to break into a new trading pit on the floor of The Chicago Board Options Exchange. Except for a failed one year of trading off-floor, I had been in the SPX (S & P 500) options pit since 1987. Our firm, Arbitrade, had had no success in the NDX (Nasdaq 100) crowd, but I wasn't worried about my prospects. Nearly every broker on the CBOE floor knew me, most liked me, and the traders in the pit were mostly young guys who I'd befriended when they were starting out as clerks.

The pit was tyrannically run by Susquehanna Trading, but it was with the main broker in the crowd that I needed to connect. He had a rough reputation: Vietnam vet, violent temper, and well-armed, carrying a pistol to the floor every day in his briefcase. A challenge? Maybe, but I earned his grudging respect with humor and the ability to do The New York Times' crossword as quickly as he could.

We were talking about books one day, an interest that the other traders in the pit didn't share.

"Have you ever read Jim Thompson?" he asked.

"Only The Grifters." I'd read the novel after seeing the film version and liked it very much. It was even darker and more disturbing than the John Cusack-Annette Bening-Anjelica Huston take, which was harrowing in its own right.

The next day he brought in a stack of nine paperbacks. If I'm interested in a recommendation, I don't like to borrow. I'm a proud possessor of books. They live on and my library is referred to daily. But I took them. Remember, he did have a gun in his briefcase.

I read them all in a few weeks. Each one was fucked up, violent, but fun, in a sick sick sick way. None was more repulsive and gripping than The Killer Inside Me. The story of psycho lawman Lou Ford left its mark on me. Here's an example why: "And I hit her in the guts as hard as I could. My fist went back against her spine." Those two sentences really turned my stomach and, oddly, I've repeated that scene often. Think about it. Those are two remarkably evocative lines of prose. Hard to shake.

So, when I sat down to watch this year's movie version starring Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson, I was scared. If the filmmakers backed off the brutality and kinkiness of the novel, then it would suck. If they didn't, it might make me puke.

They didn't. It was brutal, vile, hard to take. And I knew what was coming! Extremely true to Thompson, The Killer Inside Me is difficult to watch. Affleck captures the schizophrenia of Ford quite well. Casey's voice is always odd, but his robotic, quivering and insane tone is perfect here. Alba transcends her to be expected sultriness a turns in some fine acting as Joyce the whore (no heart of gold, but she'll make you cry for her). Kate Hudson, who has made a career based on terrible role choices, is excellent as Amy, Casey's supposedly "nice" girl. Hudson's been on a bit of a streak for me; she stole the boring and dreadful Nine, putting much needed life in that corpse.

Should you see The Killer Inside Me? Hmm, I don't know. Read the book. If you don't find yourself hating humanity after that, give the movie a whirl. You may regret both experiences, but you won't forget them.

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