"The Killing" DVD Review

5/27/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD Review

"The Killing"

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, written by Kubrick and Jim Thompson, 83 Minutes, Not Rated

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

You can often see where a director's career will go based on their first film. You'd expect it to be a less likely possibility with Stanley Kubrick, whose career spanned nearly every genre, sometimes even in one film, but watching one of his earliest works, "The Killing," you know its a Kubrick film. The theatrical performances, the dark moments of comedy, the gorgeous and fluid cinematography, and the general lack of interest in the lighter side of the human condition, all elements found in nearly all of his work, are here. You might miss them wrapped up in the film's noir-ish style, but anyone familiar with Kubrick will surely see his personal touch. Like most of his films, the master director is very much a character of the film himself.

Sterling Hayden portrays a criminal named Johnny. He's just been released from prison, and in an attempt to go straight and run away with his girlfriend, Johnny plans the perfect heist on a horse track on the day of one of its biggest races. The track's cashier George (Elisha Cook Jr.) and bartender Mike (Joe Sawyer) are in on the job, as are a corrupt cop, Randy (Ted de Corsia) and a couple of stooges that Johnny hires to distract the police while he takes off with the cash.

Trouble starts brewing when George's cruel wife Sherry learns of the heist and tells her secret lover, Val (Vince Edwards), who plans to take the group by surprise after the heist and take the money for himself.

This would be Kubrick's first and only attempt at tackling a traditional noir crime film, but you wouldn't know it. Clever, excellently acted and enormously entertaining (possibly moreso than any of his other films), the film starts strong and maintains its steady and exciting pace all the way to the end. Hayden makes for an excellent lead, of course, but those supporting him are easily as interesting and likable, and though he has a small role, Elisha Cook Jr.'s timid and subtle performance easily steals the film from all of them.

Where Kubrick really strikes gold is in his storytelling. It's a very simple and rather short tale, but by exploring everything with non-linear storytelling from each character's perspective, he makes it a lot more thrilling and unpredictable than it otherwise might be. It also allows each character to get their due whereas characters in other heist films of this sort wouldn't get near the amount of dedication they deserve. Every one of them is crucial to the plot, so why shouldn't they all get the screentime they deserve?

"The Killing" is far from Kubrick's best. His direction, while great, just can't match the sophistication or outright audaciousness of his later work, and the film overall isn't as powerful or meaningful, either. But you really couldn't think of a more confident debut, and even considering films like "The Shining" or "Full Metal Jacket," none of Kubrick's films would ever match this in full-on effortless entertainment. It's Kubrick's first masterpiece of many.

Grade: A

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