Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Killing

Film: The Killing (1956)
Dir: Stanley Kubrick
Rating: ****1/2 out of 5 stars

I have no excuse for why it took me so long to see this film, being a Kubrick lover and a big fan of Sterling Hayden. I'm just glad I finally got around to it because this is one great movie. Among heist films, you always hear about stuff like Heat or Oceans 13, but this is definitely one of the best heist movies out there.

Hayden plays Johnny Clay, a former convict looking to settle down and make an honest living with his girlfriend - after one final score. He gathers a small group of trusted men who conspire to rob the local racetrack for $2,000,000. One of the fellas - a racetrack teller - makes a fateful mistake when he tells his greedy wife about the plan, setting in motion a series of unfortunate consequences.

I love stories about greed and the inevitable tragedy that follows it. Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan came to mind as I watched this because both have downtrodden characters who think they have stumbled upon easy money, but they ultimately pay the price. These types of stories are always fascinating studies on human nature, and The Killing is no exception.

As always, Kubrick has pulled together an amazing cast of character actors. Hayden is the tough ringleader of the group, but he is pulling this heist because he wants to start anew with his girlfriend Fay, and though he is terrified of going back to prison, it is worth the risk to him. Fay is also an interesting character because she supports him 100% and guides him when the scheme begins to crumble. She is also the antithesis of the track teller's wife, Sherry, who is a shrewd, manipulative bitch and almost single-handedly ruins everything. In the role, Marie Windsor is fantastic. Such an aggressive, fast-talking female is always refreshing in these old movies.

Portraying Sherry's mousey husband George is Elisha Cook, who has playing noir characters down to an art (i.e., The Maltese Falcon). Like Johnny Clay, George just wants to start a new life with his wife, but he is blind to the fact that she despises him and is only using him. One more actor I must mention is Timothy Carey, who plays a sharpshooter hired to kill a racehorse. This eccentric actor reminds me of John Turturro in the best way possible and I cannot wait to see him in more films.

As I said earlier, this is a pretty great heist film. The scheme is complex and smart, and as it is playing out, it is very suspenseful. If you enjoy heist movies, do not dismiss this one based on its age. It will surely surprise you. Needless to say, Kubrick's directing style is perfect. The cinematography is beautiful. The film is told in a non-linear fashion, utilizing flashbacks pretty often. A narrator is used to keep the viewer posted on where and when we are. While I'm not sure the narrator was necessary, I did not mind his presence - and I usually hate narrators.

The Killing has taken 3rd place among my favorite Kubrick films, but that is no easy task. Honestly, nothing is ever gonna top Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange for me, but this one was better than I even expected. I can always count on Stanley to fascinate me.