The Killing is designed to be confusing. Stanley Kubrick’s third feature concerns a crew of two-bit crooks who plan and execute a heist on a racing track. Their scheme is convoluted enough – six people needing to be in the right place at the right time doing the wrong thing – and is further complicated by a non-linear narrative that jags between characters and times.
The film is defined by a sense of paranoiac disorientation laced with tension. This isn’t called The Heist after all, and events unfold much like Murphy would expect. Among the crooks’ number are Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), all dour confidence, and George Peatty (Elisha Cook), all nervous uncertainty. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be more George than Johnny watching the film.
These criminals are crude men, hard to sympathise with; this is both a strength and a weakness of the film. The strong moments in The Killing are when innocents wander into the sphere of these men: a desperate woman futilely pleading with a corrupt policeman for assistance, or an affable parking attendant attempting to befriend a sniper. You may not care about whether these men succeed, but Kubrick ensures that you care if they fail.