Friday 19 April 2019

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 41. In Cold Blood

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

In Cold Blood
Director - Richard Brooks
Country - USA
Year - 1967
Runtime - 135 minutes

'How can a perfectly sane man commit an absolutely crazy act?' This is the problematic question at the heart of Richard Brook's haunting thriller, In Cold Blood, based upon the true life account of two callous murderers as documented by Truman Capote in his infamous novel of the same name. This superb adaptation stars Robert Blake and Scott Wilson as the troubled killers Perry and Dick, and investigates their motives and the disturbing psychology behind the remorseless murders that shocked a nation.

Perry and Dick are ex-convicts, bound together as partners through their stints in prison, who reconvene on the outside world to undertake a burglary at a family home where the father is a business owner who is rumoured to stash his money in a safe. On the fateful night when the criminals make their daring attempt to steal this money, all four of the Cutter family are at home, safely tucked up in bed. We see glimpses of the victims lives before they are cruelly taken away but the main focus of Brooks' screenplay is the murderers, and the insight we have into their distressing pasts is an eye-opening experience.

Rather than depicting them merely as cruel murderers, the film challenges the viewer by showing a human side to their plight, turning a distressing incident into an emotional journey of guilt and remorse. As the film reaches its inevitable conclusion it is difficult to hold back from feeling sympathetic towards the perpetrators of this ghastly crime, such is the power of the film-making on display here, and this is a tough notion to digest. The inner conflict between despising or pitying the victims makes for powerful viewing - provoking a whole host of emotions as you witness the devastating ordeal and the subsequent aftermath as the killers become wracked with overwhelming regret.

Like its matter of fact source novel, In Cold Blood portrays the murders in a cold and clinical fashion, with the choice to film in black and white lending perfectly to the sinister act - heightening the dark atmosphere and emphasising the stark brutality of the violence. The film holds back from displaying the abhorrent incident until the third act, splitting its focus between two timelines; the build-up to the horrific events and the subsequent repercussions as the killers flee from the law. This heightens the impact of the shocking sequence when it finally lands, and Brooks' unflinching version of events is an intense depiction of the inherent inhumanity that possesses the perpetrators as they take the lives of the Cutter family.

The ensuing police investigation is as fascinating as the insight into the killer's psychological profiles. As the hunt for evidence at the Cutter household yields few details about the perpetrator's identities, the police reach out to the media in the hope that people may come forward with information that could lead to the incarceration of those responsible for these heinous crimes. A vital lead ushers on the manhunt in an intense turn of events that leaves you fearing the killer's may be successful in their daring escape attempt to Mexico.

The central performances from Scott Wilson as Dick and Robert Blake as Perry are utterly engrossing and paramount to the film's disarming exploration of morality. Wilson encapsulates the irredeemable nature of a vicious killer but still manages to reflect Dick's unsettling charismatic side that proves useful for hustling store owners with phony cheques whilst on the run from the law. Blake tackles the unenviable task of portraying a murderer whom the audience are invited to empathise with and incredibly manages to succeed; his powerhouse performance bringing a surprising emotional depth to the proceedings in a role that stands out as a career defining moment.

As we learn about Perry's unconventional upbringing, particularly the torment he faced as a child, we begin to understand the reasons behind his behaviour, even if we can never condone it. There are brief glimpses of goodness in his actions, although these are clouded by the toxic and manipulative influence of his partner, and underneath his damaged psyche there appears to be a man who has unintentionally become embroiled in something he never truly wanted to be a part of. The flashbacks to Perry's childhood are amongst the most hard hitting scenes in the film, and Brook's bold realism lends itself to the upsetting nature of these past experiences.

Cinematographer Conrad Hall (Cool Hand Luke, American Beauty) captured magical scenes with his astounding work on In Cold Blood; moments of serene beauty that are uncommon in such a thematically dark picture. A stand out sequence where tears streaming down a man's face appear rippled by the shadows of rain drops from a nearby window enhances the emotional impact of the scene with a simple but highly memorable effect that leaves a lasting impression. He lights the picture in a way that utilises shadows to heighten suspense and create an unsettling ambience that chimes perfectly with the films haunting poignancy.

It is startling to think that In Cold Blood is based upon a true account as the twists and turns along the way could have only been conjured up by a truly imaginative writer, and it is as gripping as a first rate fictional crime thriller. The candid performances from Wilson and Blake are worthy of your time alone but Brooks has also created a raw and deeply disturbing film that is uncomfortably engaging in its thorough cross examination of the troubled minds at the heart of the story. This is a devastating American classic that shows how powerful and disturbing the true crime genre can be when handled with such care for the subject matter, and a film that has lost none of its ability to shock and challenge an audience even fifty years after its debut.

If you take the time to watch In Cold Blood then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

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