By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
A team of career criminals and insider recruits plot a daring robbery at a horse racing track. Led by veteran stick-up man Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), they meticulously plot each stage of the crime. Each person has a designated task to perform; without each element, the plan will fail. Unbeknownst to them, a leak has sprung in the otherwise tight ship, one that threatens to sink the whole plan.
The third film of Director Stanley Kubrick, who considered this his first “mature” work. Indeed, The Killing has the feel and daring of an experienced director, looking to make an artistic statement.
Actor Sterling Hayden delivers a perfectly deft performance as the man with the plan, and each of his cronies are solid. Notable supporting characters include George Peatty (Elisha Cook Jr.), a mousy clerk who seems out of place in the bunch. George is the heart of the film, a seemingly normal guy pushed to extremes by a money-grubbing shrew of a wife. Also notable is Kola Kwariani as “Maurice”, a tough guy and chess player hired to start a fight as a diversion. Actor Kola Kwariani was a professional wrestler who Kubrick reportedly met in a Chess & Checkers club both frequented. His character Maurice is a surprisingly poetic individual, given his physicality, and one wonders if the real life person brought a lot of his own experiences to the part.
As a piece of the Film Noir genre, The Killing boasts the kind of sharp, highly stylized dialogue you would expect, but with some additional nuance which elevates it above many of its peers. The camerawork isn’t as gritty and extreme as some of them, but it is never anything less than professional.
Much as this film has much to praise, it also falls victim to the glaring fault of over-explanation. The film features a newsy-style narration which often explains things which require no explanation. This feels like a choice which a studio would have put upon the director, as Kubrick’s other works often skew the other direction, often leaving things open-ended for the viewer to decide what to make of it. Either way, it is intrusive, and sometimes just silly. This is a minor complaint ultimately, as the film’s many admirable aspects overwhelm it.
A gripping and poignant early movie for Kubrick, who would go on to make more refined films. Lesser Kubrick is still leagues above the best of many other filmmakers.
Take a Drink: whenever the narrator points out something obvious
Take a Drink: each time a plan goes wrong
Do a Shot: for irony