Stanley Kubrick’s first great film The Killing is one of the most intricately detailed crime films ever made. From how the gang is formed to the plan and from the crime to the multiple getaway plans, we see everything almost second by second. The timing of everything is shown with so much precision it almost feels like a documentary. Kubrick’s style in The Killing was followed in many later crime films, especially some of the great ones in the 70s like The Sting, Dog Day Afternoon and All the President’s Men.
While the gang is being formed, we get to know the characters individually and their family lives. Most interesting is George Peatty (Elisha Cook) who is emotionally abused and emasculated by his wife Sherry (Marie Windsor). George is co-dependent and takes the abuse, going to desperate lengths to try to make her love him. This type of sick marriage is so common, but this is the only movie I know of that directly and honestly portrays a woman being blatantly abusive to her husband.
George assumes that his wife is dissatisfied because she’s not getting the amount of money out of him that she expected. He’s right about that, but he also thinks that if he can make his “killing,” that her attitude and behavior will change and they can have a decent marriage. He’s wrong about that, but it’s the reason he agrees to take part in the robbery planned by the gang. Yet we know he’s wrong when he doesn’t because he can’t see how manipulative she is when she tries to get information out of him about the plan. She has no problem with his criminal activity as long as she’ll be the one to get the money and not him.
We know this double-cross is happening in the first ten minutes of the movie, but watching it unfold is as intense and thrilling as just about any movie could be. Then there’s the robbery itself at a racetrack. Seeing each of the six gangsters isolated in his own role in the scheme brings that same intensity. Then we have six getaways. The Killing is always to interested in the details of the crime to get caught up in pointless chase scenes. The action that the movie does have is plot-driven and necessary to the tension already created, not just thrown in Bond-style to become the excitement and an excuse for a boring story. The excitement of The Killing is entirely because of its perfectly crafted intricate screenplay with unique believable characters that are all played to a minimalistic effect, keeping every scene intimate and realistic.
Also directed by Stanley Kubrick:
Paths of Glory (1957)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)