Often considered one of the greatest heist films, The Killing is an early Kubrick film that not only showcases signs of his genius but also redefined the genre, creating several new conventions.
Of all directors Kubrick, for me, probably has the highest hit ratio. I’ve seen every feature he’s directed except his first (Fear and Desire (1953)) and each of them has had a profound impact on me and has such depth that I always want to re-watch them, and the same thing happened with The Killing.
When I saw The Killing a few years ago it blew me away, it was heist film that defied expectation in a time when the expectation didn’t even exist. It also contained probably the most ironic ending of all time. With the non-linear storytelling really adding an extra depth to the tension and making the actual heist appear a lot more complicated than it actually is.
Watching the film again I was, once more, surprised by just how good it was as not only did it create genre tropes that would be consistently replicated, it also breaks these conventions. My favourite part of the film is the way that the heist does actually go, on the whole, smoothly.
The general convention with a heist genre film is that the character’s plans are put into jeopardy during the heist and they have to improvise to actually get away with the money. But in The Killing the heist itself actually goes almost perfectly with nothing in the original plan going wrong.
This means that towards the end of the film you’re expecting everything to end up happily, with characters taking the money and heading off into the sunset and it is here that Kubrick mixes things up.
The heist going exactly to the plan becoming a cruel joke by Kubrick who doesn’t want anyone to end up happy. Instead, he decides to slaughter a majority of the cast in a single scene and have the remaining member lose the money. Giving the audience the famous ironic twist that is satisfying in an unsatisfying sort of way. It’s a perfectly set up and executed.
The Killing is a classic of a genre that breaks conventions and expectations making it a film which deserves and needs to be studied by all filmmakers.
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