Top positive review
A masterpiece of sober retelling of an uncomfortable story
on 6 September 2014
This classic film, commendably well directed and acted, tells the story of the murder in 1959 of the Clutter family, father, mother and two teenage children, on their farm in Kansas. At two a.m. two men approached the darkened house hoping to find a safe - one had been told about the safe by a former Clutter worker when he shared a cell with him in prison. There was no safe, but they had formed a plan to leave no witnesses, so the four family members were all tied up and shot. The murders sent a ripple of fear through the whole community. The Clutters were well-known and well-liked, they died in their own home, and there appeared to be no motive for the killings - only $40 and a transistor radio were stolen. Who could have done such a thing - where were they, and would they do it again?
Six weeks later the killers, Perry Smith and 'Dick'; Hickock, were found and arrested. The police work had been thorough and professional, but they had three significant pieces of good luck, one of which helped them to identify the men and the other two to secure a conviction in this witnessless case. Smith and Hickock were tried and condemned to death, but sentence was not carried out for five years while a series of appeals was heard. In the end, they died by hanging in 'The Corner', an old tin-roofed workshop beside the prison in which they had spent those years.
The writers Truman Capote and Harper Lee researched all of this on site and what they found became the basis of Capote's outstanding book 'In Cold Blood'. This is the film version of that book. It tells a compelling but deeply disturbing story without sensationalism. It is not judgemental. It explores, as the book does, the psychological basis for the killings - Smith in particular was affected by disturbing events in his childhood and his relationship with his father - and in the end the message the film confronts us with is that there is no ray of hope in this story ; it is just something that happens and, in the end, that darkens the lives of all who come in contact with it. It is a compelling film, but a disturbing one, and, shot in black and white, it has considerable period credibility and atmosphere. I can't imagine it being better done, and it is certainly thought-provoking.