Words: Brody Rossiter
A MEATBALL WITH GRAVY
Often cited as one of Hollywood’s most ambitious examples of the film noir genre, Stanley Kubrick’s third feature, The Killing (1956), is a tough and thrilling heist movie, sock full of razor sharp dialogue and murky personalities. Opening with narrated introductions to Kubrick’s ensemble of deadbeats, crooks, career criminals and a corrupt police officer, a tightly wound plan to rob a racetrack of two million dollars is quickly hatched through the vice filled haze of a darkened apartment. From its opening scene, little breathing room is afforded within the coiled narrative of the picture. Interiors are rarely left and the camera seldom moves. However, despite its stylistic simplicity, the filmmaking is not economical but rather abundant in its content, bombarding the viewer with leathery faces and fast-talking dialogue – thrusting you into the planning of the robbery before unleashing the chaotic act itself.
The Killing’s punchiness is accommodated for by a series of episodic sequences loaded with character interaction and exposition as a seemingly watertight plan is hatched. As the group initiate their own series of carefully choreographed tasks within the grand criminal scheme, Kubrick’s stylistic choices go along for the ride. The camera highlights the frantic action from a myriad of obtuse angles, both high and low, utilising perspective to immerse the viewer in the racetrack’s hectic environment while quick cuts thrash back and forth between the characters’ hurried undertakings. A clear increase in tempo is evident and The Killing becomes a picture of two halves: Kubrick’s typical bout of thoughtful calm before a riotous storm.
The auteur’s professional mark is evident, but the grandiose painterly style of his later, more revered pictures is not. While this distinction is most likely due to an absence of afforded filmmaking tools as opposed to ambition, it’s still enthralling to watch the director work within his burgeoning confines. He adheres to the grounded heaviness of the ‘real’ and procedural, as opposed to his now familiar fondness for the abstract and ingenious.
As with very Arrow Video release, special attention must be paid to the incredibly high standard of restoration present in terms of visuals, audio, and supplementary features. The 1080p Blu-ray presentation is a fitting filter through which to view Kubrick’s ice-cold aesthetic. Pillows of cigarette smoke dance across backdrops of the richest black, while sharp white lamplight illuminates every crease and steely expression on the faces of the thieving collective – The level of detail present for a picture over half-a-century old is astounding and sumptuously stark. Bonus features include video essays from Kill List director, Ben Wheatley, and critic, Michel Ciment, who specifically discusses Kubrick’s 1950’s output – an output further explored through perhaps this releases most prized inclusion, Kubrick’s second feature in full, Killers Kiss.
With cool and calculated performance from leading man, Sterling Hayden, and several robust foils to accompany him, The Killing is both a powerfully acted and filmed picture which builds to an equally forceful and highly memorable climax. Just as the film elects to repeatedly jump back and forth across its own narrative timeline, film lovers – especially those with a taste for noir – should elect to experience Kubrick’s enthralling heist in what could easily be considered its finest showing – you can bet you won’t regret it.