Thursday 25 July 2019

Movie Review: In Cold Blood (1967)

A crime drama, In Cold Blood accompanies two drifters as they commit a shocking multiple murder in pursuit of quick cash. The film deploys a detached style to drive home the atrocity's callous randomness.

Two ex-convicts on parole team up in rural Kansas. Perry Smith (Robert Blake) is a killer with a combustible temper. Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson) is more of a smooth planner, and has information from a former cellmate about $10,000 stashed in a safe on the farm of Herbert Clutter. Dick wants to steal the money and leave no witnesses, with Perry to do all the killing.

After driving 400 miles to the Clutter property, Smith and Hickock invade the house and kill all four occupants: Herbert, his wife Bonnie and two teenaged children Nancy and Ken. But there is no safe and no $10,000. Smith and Hickock take off with $43. Special Agent Alvin Dewey (John Forsyth) of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation leads the search for the fugitives, who cross the border into Mexico but are soon broke and heading back into the United States.

Filmed with a documentary ethos and in black and white, In Cold Blood adapts Truman Capote's classic true crime book in a chillingly soulless noir style. Director Richard Brooks also wrote the screenplay, and maintains focus on the psychology of killers methodically making their way to a rendevouz with murder, then wandering aimlessly, their pathetic lives adding layers of tragedy to the senseless killings.

The film's fixation on understanding as best as possible the killers' mindset comes at a cost. Despite Brooks' deliberate and faithful recreation of facts, the victims are shortchanged. The Clutters are barely afforded any meaningful screen time, and their friends and family are all but ignored after the crime. The investigative aspects of the film are procedural and relatively flat, John Forsyth as Agent Dewey not provided with much to work with. And at 135 minutes the film does go on, the final act over-narrated and utterly cold as Brooks accompanies Dick and Perry to their ultimate destination.

But what In Cold Blood does well is delve into the damaged soul of men intent on grabbing by foul means what they believe the world owes them, a philosophy proclaimed by Dick Hickock. He is psychotic enough to plan the murder of four people in search of cash, and smart enough to recruit the unstable Perry Smith to carry out the killings. Smith's recollections of a troubled and mind-twisting childhood catch a distorted echo in his father's perversely poetic perspective of a son's stature.

Brooks selected relative unknowns Robert Blake and Scott Wilson for the lead roles, and they reward him with performances fueled by the absence of empathy. The film's strongest stretch occurs in the post-crime nothingness, Blake and Wilson barely displaying any understanding of the horror they committed as they cross borders and blunder between locations, forever lost.

All Ace Black Movie Blog Reviews are here.

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