- Robert Blake, Scott Wilson, John Forsythe
- Richard Brooks
- Richard Brooks
- R (United States)
- Running Time
- 134 minutes
In Cold Blood was based on the most popular book by Truman Capote, a gripping story of murder that surprised readers when it came out. Just like the title, it’s a cold telling of a violent story; it doesn’t shy away from the most graphic details but also tries to make us understand the perpetrators.
In Cold Blood follows Perry Smith (Blake) and Dick Hickock (Wilson), two men who, in 1959, broke into the home of Herbert Clutter (John McLiam) looking for money hidden in a safe. When they realize there’s not in it for them, they kill Clutter, his wife and two kids and leave his home with 40 bucks. They are chased by the police and eventually found and sentenced to death.
Directed by Brooks, In Cold Blood does exactly the same. The brilliance of the film lies in the choices Brooks made to tell the story, some of them very difficult to achieve. Brooks wanted unknown actors in the cast, despite the request from the studio that Steven McQueen and Paul Newman played the two assassins. Brooks was right; having two unfamiliar faces on the screen helped us immerse ourselves into the story, made us see two people, not two movie stars.
In Cold Blood has a very documentary vibe to it, and one of the main reasons for that it because we don’t recognize the people we are watching. 1967 was a groundbreaking year for cinema in the U.S., with films like Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate shattering the fantasy land of Hollywood and giving the audience more realistic, cynical and even violent narratives. It was a transition from old Hollywood to a new wave of authors who transformed completely the way we watched movies, and this film was part of that process. We were not watching a studio movie here; we are watching a potent narrative of bad choices ending up in a blood bath.
The other smart choice Brooks made with In Cold Blood was presenting it in black and white, something the studio and the audience were not interested anymore. Of course, the cinematographer, Conrad Hall, was a genius, but the choice to stay away from color gave the film a very distinctive feel. It felt urgent and real. Hall’s choices as a DoP were fantastic, creating amazingly composed frames, playing with light and dark, and turning our experience into a very harrowing one.
Realism was a very clear creative choice here with In Cold Blood, and it paid off beautifully. The entire third act, when the robbery and the killing takes place is incredibly tense and nerve wrecking. The editing and the mis-en-scene helped giving us a feeling that anything could happen, and the way Blake and Wilson performed the scenes as Perry and Dick made them very uneasy to watch. Blake is sweaty, erratic and Wilson is menacing, he’s enjoying the situation while he’s also worried about what’s coming next. This entire sequence is a mastery in storytelling.
But the beauty of In Cold Blood is that it never turns its killers into monsters. We sympathize with them, and we still manage to be completely disgusted with what they did. The film humanizes its villains, to the point that we truly see their regret and instability towards what has happened. And again, we see that, but we never waiver in our certainty that they are guilty.
This was one of the most amazing qualities of In Cold Blood: it constantly makes us connect with some characters we are watching and see their humanity while we still see them for who they are and for what they did. And that’s very powerful.
*still courtesy of Pax Enterprises*
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