I caught a stellar Kubrick film on Netflix's Instant Watch setup, a few days back and thought I weigh in on it briefly. The Killing -- Kubrick's first film with a real budget and a recognizable cast -- is about a bunch of small time crooks banding together to rob a racetrack. Since the Belmont Stakes runs this weekend I thought the film was sort of appropriate. Especially since the characters in the film are robbing one of the seamiest sports in existence.
Forced segue: Horse Racing needs to stop or be completely overhauled. In short, an animal is drugged and beaten so that she can, in sheer fear and terror, run in circles so that people can bet on her. And if she gets hurt in the process, she's killed on the spot. Because it has been deemed a "sport", these actions are allowed, unpunished. There is no place in our society for this sort of sport, instead we deserve a more evolved, enlightened, esoteric sport like imitation MMA.
Back to The Killing. I recommend it to everyone, especially to those who like quick tight crime dramas. At a swift 83 minutes, the story has no "good guys" just a bunch of dames and fellas trying to make a buck to better their lives and pay off their debts. Like the rest of Kubrick's films, every character is cold as ice yet fascinating in his struggle obtain what he desires. Sterling Hayden plays the leader of the group as a man who obtains respect not via threats and murder, but through laid-back confidence. Elisha Cook Jr. and Timothy Carey are just plain chilling. I miss their sort of old fashioned depiction of insanity -- though they're each quiet and still, the performances feel immense. The lighting is sparse and smart, seemingly coming from the actual sources -- lamps and windows -- in the world of the film (another practice that Kubrick played with later in his career).
But what the flick is most known for, and what stays with me the most is the tale's constantly shifting perspective. Kudos to Kubrick for one of his best scripts. At first it's jarring to see a 1956 film leap back and forth through time. Once the opening sequence finishes, we learn that this is the end of the film. Then the next scene is from the week before. Then the next scene was from 5 minutes earlier. Then the next scene was from the next day. Then the next from the previous day. But not an ounce of this is confusing and the storytelling isn't forced. It's not a stunt, it just feels like the only way the story can be spun. Add in the voiceover and it's like someone telling you about a robbery, "First they did this, then they did that, and oh wait the day before this guy did this right before his wife said that, etc." And to top it all off, the final robbery is told from the point of view of each of the main crooks while simultaneously moving forwards and backwards chronologically. And it works.
Finally, though "the killing" may refer to the all the money being stolen, the actual execution that happens may surprise you or strike of irony after this most recent Kentucky Derby.