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The Killing is without a doubt Stanley Kubrick's breakout film. His previous film, Killer's Kiss shows its low budget roots pretty obviously and is probably only worth seeing for Kubrick completionists. The Killing has a slightly larger budget and more studio support from United Artists though Kubrick had to forfeit some of his creative freedom.
What really sets The Killing apart is how unique the storyline is set out. It's told in a non-linear storyline which everyone is familiar with from Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction. Non-linear storylines are pretty much accepted now by everyone but back in 1956, people weren't used to non-conventional storytelling at all. Kubrick was forced to re-edit the film to be linear but apparently the results were even more confusing to follow. Sadly, The Killing was released as it was and failed to make a profit.
A team of criminals get together to plan a race track heist. Everyone is given a role and everyone is to keep their mouth shut until the big day. However, George Peatty's (Elisha Cook Jr.) wife Sherry (Marie Windsor) finds out about the operation and spills the beans to Val Cannon (Vince Edwards), her lover on the side. Things fall into place until the big day at the track when things don't go as expected.
The storyline of The Killing is easy enough to follow and the characters are all unique enough to differentiate. I especially like how the climax is shown several times through the eyes of different crooks. The repetition never feels dull and the resolution is quite a thrill as well.
You can really see just how much Quentin Tarantino was "inspired" by Kubrick. Reservoir Dogs clearly traces its origins to this film and any Reservoir fan owes it to themselves to see The Killing. This is not the greatest film-noir ever made but it's most certainly one of the most important ever made, one which had an enormous impact on film later on.
Compared to Killer's Kiss, The Killing never really reveals its low budget-ness. Kubrick is a little less wild with his camera work but this time, he has a very competent group of actors who play their roles pretty well. Elisha Cook Jr.'s acting has aged the worst but it's easy to get by. There's some narration that also seems unnecessary but was forced onto Kubrick by United Artists to make it easier for the audiences who weren't used to fractured storylines.
It's a real shame that Kubrick's visionary effort didn't light up the box office. He attracted attention from the most important people though in Kirk Douglas and Marlon Brando who who give him his next job, director of Paths of Glory and paved his way into Hollywood. As his best solo work before achieving mainstream success, The Killing is worth seeing.
The noir aspect always catches me off guard. Clever movie and build-up, resembling The Sting. As for the ending, obviously it suits certain viewers and doesn't with others, I'm somewhere in between.
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In 12 official lists
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This movie ranks #15 in Film-noir
This movie ranks #32 in Quentin Tarantino's Coolest Movies of All Time
This movie ranks #94 in TSPDT 100 Essential Noir Films
This movie ranks #365 in 501 Must See Movies
This movie ranks #392 in Roger Ebert: the great movies
This movie ranks #409 in Jonathan Rosenbaum's Essential Films
This movie ranks #485 in The Guardian's 1000 Films to See Before You Die
This movie ranks #503 in TimeOut's 1000 Films to Change Your Life
This movie ranks #521 in Have You Seen? A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films
This movie ranks #598 in They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?
This movie ranks #635 in Sight and Sound 2012 - Combined List
This movie ranks #655 in The Criterion Collection