Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #185
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Sterling Hayden and Elisha Cook
Most of the discussion surrounding The Killing, a 1950s noir classic centered on a failed heist of a racetrack, is about its director. That's fair; Stanley Kubrick would go on to direct more classics – including a whopping nine films on the IMDb Top 250 – than just about any other director ever. Unfortunately, it's precisely that that makes hordes of people question the quality of the film in question. It seems to be the consensus that The Killing is only even watched today because of what its director would go on to do later in his career, and that it isn't worth the praise that's been heaped upon it after the fact. I'm not sure if that's entirely fair; I enjoyed The Killing as much as any noir film I've ever seen.
Like the people who say this movie is only talked about because of its director, I think it's important to consider it in the context of Kubrick's career. Unlike those people, however, I think it's useful to look at it much as I look at Taxi Driver for Martin Scorsese: as a brilliant introduction that shows us some of the techniques we would see more of in later, more fully realized masterpieces. Sure, The Killing has a pretty standard plot that pulls out most of the standard noir devices, but it's obvious that the hand of a master is guiding the process. The way the chronology is assembled, the series of unfortunate events that unfolds after the first failure in the heist plot, and the look of utter hopelessness on the protagonist's face in the long closing shot are all indicative of the power that Kubrick already wielded at such a (relatively) tender age.
The entire 83 minute movie is spent setting up, executing, and dealing with the aftermath of the heist at the racetrack. As such, there isn't a whole lot to talk about in terms of message or meaning, or much to read into beyond what's committed to the celluloid – not that that should matter. What you see is what you get with The Killing. It isn't the tangled web that some of Kubrick's later works would be, but it's still an occasionally psychologically taut, high quality film, and one well worth your time.
The Good: Following the plot and seeing how the heist unfolds singlehandedly puts this movie's bread on the table. You sure as hell won't be watching it for...
The Bad: ...the performances. Yikes. Not even competent, most of them.
The Skinny: Of the nine Kubrick films on the list, it deserves its spot the least of the ones I've seen. I still think it deserves its spot, though.