The Killing ★★★★½

The promise of Stanley Kubrick finally begins to crystallize with The Killing, a rather great film noir made with a studio-like look and maintaining a lot of the same independent sensibility that Kubrick had already established with Killer's Kiss, particularly with the strong emphasis on natural lighting being used to paint vivid and surreal imagery. While conventional in terms of the kind of story it's telling (a racetrack robbery with a lot of players), Kubrick's best trick he puts forth is arranging the film in a non-linear fashion, creating some rather fascinating overlap situations and clever reuse of existing footage in order to tell this story in a way that really hadn't been told like this before. It's an effective technique, as it keeps you on your toes throughout with how well it maintains tension in spite of the unorthodox setup and does a great job of expanding the scope of the story and character development without necessarily being too grand from a production standpoint, as Kubrick gets his money's worth for each set and location. He also finally got his hands on a professional cast, who dive into the delightful pulp dialogue with great aplomb: ever reliable stalwarts like Sterling Hayden and Elisha Cook, Jr. are the big highlights for the males, but it's Marie Windsor as a deliciously bitchy would-be femme fatale that damn near steals the movie away from everyone else with her ruthlessly hilarious barbs. But it's not all clean genre fun, as Kubrick does begin to realize the power of subverting expectations, particularly with a racially charged encounter between a black parking lot attendant and one of the job's very white accomplices that I doubt has lost any of its potency today as it had back then, and the film definitely doesn't shy away from the mounting bleakness as the job draws closer and closer to being pulled off and followed through, leading to an unforgettable climax that doesn't need a single gunshot or act of violence to feel like it's practically murdered a man. My complaints seem relatively minor, as I doubt they were Kubrick's intention, as the voiceover announcing each time change feels not only unnecessary, but often leads to more confusing situations than clarifying them properly, feeling like a concession the studio wanted to make in the hopes of making the film an easier sell to audiences expecting a more traditional yarn. It is a shame that Kubrick never again turned to working in the confines of a more typical genre structure, as he's clearly adept at twisting it around to his own will as much as the freedom he would eventually enjoy without such restrictions, but it is perhaps for the best as Kubrick's filmography remains so damn captivating because of how different yet similar his features would be. As it stands, though, The Killing is a damn fine film by any metric that it made it loud and clear to the world that Kubrick would be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of his career.