Monday, August 6, 2012

The Killing: Without it, there'd be no Reservoir Dogs.

Movie Review: The Killing

Director:: Stanley Kubrick

Reviewed: 6 August 2012

jamesintexas rating--***1/2

Stanley Kubrick's debut film The Killing has all of the hallmarks of a latter-day Tarantino masterpiece in a film from 1956: a clockwork precise crime plot; well-drawn supporting characters with a cast of faces and voices that match; a enigmatic structure that weaves in and out of the past at will; a daring crime with deadly consequences.  For me, it is impossible to watch The Killing and not think about it as the precursor to Reservoir Dogs specifically as well as Pulp Fiction, two films that made quite an impression on me as a young filmgoer.  There is a line to be drawn from Stanley Kubrick to Quentin Tarantino, and clearly, the master influenced the master.

Kubrick deftly tells the pulpy story of a Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) a hardened criminal just released from prison looking for one big score before fleeing the country with his loyal dame who stood by his side while he was in the joint.  He recruits a cadre of criminals, some knowing only their piece of the plot, and sets all the pieces in motion.  One memorable scene involves a wrestler in a chess club of all places.  There is a race track, and if the favored horse is shot at the opportune moment by a sniper perched in an adjacent parking lot, then in the ensuing chaos, a masked robber can make off with the day's take.  All should work perfectly, but there's a complication.  Well, a few complications.

Filmed in gorgeous black and white and with quick, fun dialogue, The Killing balances betrayal with friendship, has some crackerjack dialogue and back-and-forth, as well as a story that is more about the how than the what.  His film swirls around the crime, tantalizing us with pieces of the puzzle but hesitating to give us everything.

I'm a fan of this genre, ever since I read Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep in my junior year Comp Lit and Film course, and Quentin Tarantino is my favorite living director.  Always deadly serious, Kubrick's film tells its hard-boiled story well, and the camera tracks through the house and the track with grave serious.  A sense of whimsy (fate?  God?) conspires against Johnny at the end, and the denouement is one of the most iconic images in film, much referenced and parodied.  All this film needed was a cop following Clay's trail with as much panache and assurance.  A wonderful little influential crime film from one of the best directors of all-time.

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