Stanley Kubrick directs Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jr. and Marie Windsor in this noir heist movie where a group of losers execute a perfectly planned race track robbery… but you can’t plan for the cruel vagaries of chance.
Kubrick’s breakthrough movie still excels. A masterpiece of the crime genre, every scene is a hard boiled treat. This evolved all the hoary old tropes of the noir genre and established all the tricks that future caper and action movies would embrace. Tarantino owes it a massive debt. Not just for the obvious non-linear structure influence but in how Kubrick treats the types and traits. He knows we have seen a hundred B pictures like this before and builds on our pre-existing canon. He knows we want to see weedy rat Elisha Cook sour the plan, or Marie Windsor’s malevolent shrew wife double cross the crew. She’s excellent here, by the way. We’re hardwired to expect it from them… their casting is shorthand to lifetimes and personalities we have long witnessed with every trip to the cinema. We meet a chess loving wrestler and somehow are savvy to his entire backstory despite only witnessing his procedural recruitment and part in the heist. Kubrick’s The Killing feels like the first film that knows you know how it will play out and pessimistically winks at you as code and fate and cliche trap its players with cruel indifference. It is in this respect what QT would call one his “movie movies”. The kinda cinema his fictional characters from slightly more realistic confections might go watch in their down time. Special credit goes to Jim Thompson’s stone cold dialogue and The Wild Bunch’s Lucien Ballard’s crisp, oppressive cinematography.
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