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In Cold Blood

Director: RICHARD BROOKS

U.S.A • 1967 • BLACK AND WHITE • 134 MIN


RICHARD BROOKS’ GROUNDBREAKING 1967 ADAPTATION OF TRUMAN CAPOTE’S MASTERLY CASE STUDY IS MORE THAN JUST AN ADJUNCT TO THE RELEASE OF CAPOTE, BUT AN EXTRAORDINARY FILM IN ITS OWN RIGHT.
Aiming for a celluloid equivalent of the book’s painstaking detail, Brooks (perhaps best known for his screen versions of Tennessee Williams) sought out genuine locations wherever possible, filming the Clutter killings in the Kansas house where they took place, and the trial in the local courthouse— with several of the real jurors as themselves! Captured in exquisite wide-screen black-and-white by ace cameraman Conrad Hall, such authenticity is chilling at times, but, like Capote’s writing, the film’s ultimate intention is to delve beyond the superficial outrage surrounding the killings, piecing together the awful combination of circumstance, turbulent personal history and simmering psychosis which brought ex-cons Perry Smith and Dick Hickock to the isolated family home that night in November 1959.
While startling lookalikes Robert Blake and Scott Wilson are remarkable as the insecure, resentful Smith and cocksure braggart Hickock, Brooks shows compassionate understanding (of the former’s harrowing childhood experiences in particular) without ever excusing their inexcusable crimes. Where the film’s obviously flawed is in the introduction of a substitute Capote in Paul Stewart’s magazine writer ‘Bill Jenson’, who offers up textbook liberal sentiments slightly out of place amid the surrounding documentary grit. But this doesn’t inhibit the compelling pull of unfolding events, which sees the film moving from the shockingly matter-of-fact murders to a strikingly unequivocal anti-capital-punishment statement. —Trevor Johnston.

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