Kubrick treats the crime-noir genre in a revolutionary non-linear storytelling way in what is one of the most effective American heist films ever made.
Dir. Stanley Kubrick
1956 | USA | Crime/Thriller | 84 mins | 1.66:1 | English
PG (passed clean) for some violence and brief language
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen, Ted de Corsia, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr.
Plot: Crook Johnny Clay assembles a five-man team to plan and execute a daring race-track robbery.
Awards: Nom. for 1 BAFTA – Best Film from any Source
Source: MGM (Park Circus)
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray – first published 14 Aug 2012)
Only Stanley Kubrick’s third feature after Fear and Desire (1953) and Killer’s Kiss (1955), The Killing is perhaps the film that alerted the world to the talents of a young photographer turned filmmaker. Part crime-noir, part thriller, The Killing calls to attention the assuredness of Kubrick’s direction, and his skill of crafting brilliant, structured screenplays.
The film treats the generic heist film in a revolutionary way, with Kubrick opting to focus on playing with its narrative structure. He tells the story of a gang of seemingly educated crooks who plan and execute an audacious racetrack robbery that could be worth a few millions of dollars, but tells it in such a way that it is intentionally disorienting.
The film’s non-linear style of storytelling gives viewers plenty of flashbacks and flashforwards, intercut with scenes that make up its chronological backbone. This is more evident in the film’s second and third acts, with the first act solely used to develop the characters.
Despite the film operating like a structural experiment, Kubrick doesn’t lose sight of two other key elements that make the film work – rich character development, and a potent sense of suspense.
“You like money. You’ve got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart.”
The Killing stars Sterling Hayden as the leader of the group, but the film doesn’t really have a lead character. It features an ensemble cast with enough screen time for each character to shine, and have sufficient closure by the end of the film.
While the structure of the film may have played a part in creating a unique experience that sees actors passing the baton from one to another in terms of lighting up the screen, the characters never seem intrusive, but appear to be, directly or indirectly, part of a well-oiled machine that drives the narrative in a rhythmic manner.
A narrator narrates the film, as if recounting one of the most daring heists of all time. But the non-linear style cleverly creates strong suspense, even when the audience is aware of how a particular situation will turn out.
Running at a compact 85 minutes, The Killing is tightly-paced, and is one of Kubrick’s more entertaining films – this is considering the fact that historically, Kubrick was an innovative and controversial filmmaker first, and an entertainer last.