The Killing - Blu-ray Review

'Arguably brings little to the noir and heist genres that hasn't been seen before; but it very rarely matters when Kubrick crafts each of the familiar elements as well as he does'.

Recognised as Stanley Kubrick's first feature length film, and his first working with a professional cast and crew, The Killing is often overlooked in the director's canon - perhaps due to every subsequent film released by Kubrick becoming an iconic piece of cinema. It's a fate that the film certainly does not deserve, being as it is a really rather excellent slice of film noir.

After a mildly bewildering opening few minutes, in which Kubrick throws us straight into the nonlinear structure he at times chooses for the plot, The Killing quickly settles into a pleasing narrative groove and draws you into its plot immediately. Kubrick is efficient in his storytelling method, giving you enough to be genuinely interested in each character and their motivations whilst keeping a pleasingly rapid and efficient pace throughout the film's ninety-odd minutes.

The tightly wound and intricately planned robbery of a racetrack at the centre of The Killing arguably brings little to the noir and heist genres that hasn't been seen before; but it very rarely matters when Kubrick crafts each of the familiar elements as well as he does. Leader of the gang Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) is a classic hardboiled veteran criminal, Hayden playing him with charismatic cool and calculating intelligence. His team of crooks offers a satisfying rogue's gallery of noir archetypes, with the performances from Kubrick's assembled cast comprehensively strong throughout.

As the heist progresses, the director uses the aforementioned disrupted narrative style to excellent effect, boldly choosing to show us the same point in the story several times from various different viewpoints. In the hands of Kubrick this never becomes a gimmick, allowing him to craft a detailed and layered telling of the events whilst steadily building up greater and greater tension. The film's closing twenty minutes at times feels a little too disconnected from what has come before them, but the story as a whole works well, the director skilfully keeping you guessing as to how matters will conclude until the final moments.

Whilst The Killing perhaps lacks some of the more overt directorial flair and invention for which Kubrick would become known later on in his career, there are undeniable roots here of what the then-28-year-old director would blossom into. Kubrick's manipulation of light and dark is wonderful, utilising noir cinematography to great effect. The director's use of tracking shots at several points throughout is also particularly effective, bringing tangible dynamism and presence to his film.

Considering the influence of The Killing can be seen in popular cinema ranging from Reservoir Dogs to The Dark Knight, it's perhaps even more surprising that it is largely overlooked when compared to many of Kubrick's other films. Whilst it may not take the risks of the director's more celebrated works, The Killing proves to be a consistently gripping and pithy crime drama in its own right.

The Killing is released on UK Blu-ray on Monday 9th February 2015.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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