Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Killing (Stanley Kubrick, 1956)


    Stanley Kubrick's The Killing is a gritty yet honest look at the world of crime through the eyes of a group of average joes (for the most part) as they plan to rob a race track. The plan is complex, but pretty much easy to follow for the viewer. It involves a lot of distractions and requires perfect timing on the part of all those involved. Though the heist seems promising given that some of the men are working from the inside, the problem is that everything is so perfectly planned that there isn't any room for mistake. As with all film noirs, matters are further complicated by an adulterous femme fatale when she sets her sights on obtaining the money for herself and her new beau. She manages to get her husband, one of the men on the job, to spill the beans to her about the heist. This proves to be a huge and fatal mistake as a chain of events engender dire consequences for all parties involved.

     Kubrick's films are all technical achievements, and The Killing is no exception. What I often find missing in a Kubrick film -- at least at first -- is the heart and soul upon which I've grown to feed during my courtship with cinema. Often times, it takes me a second viewing to really fall in love with a Kubrick film, which is the case for two of my faves Eyes Wide Shut and The Shining. What those two films have is layers that need unveiling and demand the chase before they're willing to shed their clothes. And that is why Kubrick's films are so special. All the elements that make a great film are there, but there is always something beneath the surface that stares out at you, yearning to be seen but refusing to be identified as just another performer in the circus. Thus, it hides behind a cloud of smoke and mirrors. Interestingly enough, The Killing lacks those sort of elements that will become Kubrick staple in his later years. Released as his third film feature, Stanley Kubrick's The Killing may lack some of the master's most complex blend of elements but it still makes for a very engaging and entertaining viewing.
    The photography in the film is beautiful. Not as dark as most noirs in its distribution of light and dark. There do not exist deep shadows trying to conceal a character's motivation or the seediness of the world these characters inhabit. This may be due to the fact that nothing is hidden or has to be hidden from us. From the very beginning, we get to see the men plan the crime and carry it out. There is no mystery. We are part of the plan and we watch it unfold right before our eyes. What does make the film more fascinating than what it would have been otherwise is the sumptuous editing. It is one of the first films to use a non-linear narrative and its influence in modern cinema is far-reaching and can still be experienced today in films like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. Matter fact, the film does feel like a Tarantino film shot in the 50s. The editing does not so much use flashbacks since the narrator plays no part in the story. Rather, jumps through time reveal what each character was doing at a particular point in the day. Thus, we get to see a character execute his part of the plan while we wait to see if another character carried out his part. For example -- minor spoiler -- a character throws a bag outside of a window where a second character is supposed to be waiting below to retrieve it in his car. However, we have yet to witness whether that second character ever made it to that spot in time. The film then jumps back in time to show that second character working to reach that very spot in time. The editing creates a perfect element of suspense that keeps us on our toes. And boy, the heist is probably one of the most well-thought-out ones I've ever seen on film. Like I said above, it is so good that any mistake can screw the whole thing up. So, when things start going on, you try to replay the events in your head to see where something or other could have been done better.

   The actors are equally as good as their script. The lines are sharp, crisp and biting, sometimes downright cruel and touching, sometimes both. At first, some of the men blend in with each other. There is no identifying them by name or monikers until a bit later in the film when the film wants to show us just why these men chose that path. So, no Mr. Brown, and certainly no Mr. Pink. As the film progresses, everybody begins to assume distinct identities, especially since they are required to carry out distinct tasks. We get a glimpse at their background and are hence given the opportunity to sympathize with them. Should we choose to do so. Because The Killing is not interested in forging cinematic heroes or villains. It's a real look at real people in real circumstances that force them to take extreme measures. Everybody does a great job with their parts, though I can't really say that anybody stands out above the rest. There is not a sore spot in the film. Everything and everyone fall into place and in the grand scheme of things it fits.
    Overall, The Killing may not contain as much depth as the rest of Kubrick's filmography but it does prove to all the naysayers that the man did have the capability to entertain. Kubrick's films are not boring. Kubrick is not boring. He just chooses to provide both entertainment and food for thought. This film speaks volumes for the man's versatility. Fantastic movie and as good as any noir out there. Who would have thought?

Ludovico Rating


  1. Teddy, it's good that you bring up Tarantino when talking about the Killing. I can see many connections between this movie and Reservoir Dogs, though the structure is obviously different. I was surprised by how much I liked this movie. It's definitely not as polished as Kubrick's later work, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Nice job!

  2. Thanks, Dan. I agree, not as great as Kubrick's later films but it still stands as a strong film on its own.

  3. It's funny because this is one of my favorite Kubrick films. In fact, whenever I watch "The Killing" I find myself wishing he had made more crime films of the type. It's no surprise I am a fan of "Killer's Kiss" as well.
    I guess when it comes right down to it, there aren't any "bad" Kubrick movies so it's hard to compare them to each other.
    Nice post on this classic as I suddenly have the urge to pull it out of the closet.

    1. If there any bad Kubricks out there, he must have hid them well. Funny thing is he'd originally planned to make Dr. Strangelove (who I still need to see) a thriller of sort, so your wish came close to being granted.
      And The Killing is definitely re-watchable. One of the best noirs out there.

    2. You haven't see "Dr. Strangelove"? That's just crazy. I'm betting it will soon be making its way to the "Top 151"

    3. Kubrick hasn't made a misstep yet for me, so you're most likely right. :D