Rated R for murder, language, and sexuality. There are times where the movie seems like it is going to be the most safe-for-TV version of a horrific crime. Then it goes and does something absolutely nuts. Like, it accuses someone looking for "butt", which sounds like a child trying to say something vulgar. But then, we'll have a section of vulgarity. Also, the murders, especially for 1967, are pretty brutal on screen. There's no nudity, but the sexuality is pretty overt. R.
DIRECTOR: Richard Brooks
This was something special. I'm not going to be preaching about how amazing the film was or anything. I don't even know if I full-on enjoyed it. But my wife and I read a book together. Okay, we read it back-to-back. I read it, preached it. Then, my wife read it. So what do we do when we read a book together? Watch the movie. Don't be surprised if Capote also ends up showing up on the blog. I'm sure we'll probably get around to that pretty soon as well.
I think I'm generally turned off by Neo Noir. I know that I can't say that absolutely. I mean, I preach Touch of Evil pretty hard. But there's a novelty to the way those movies are shot and the way that they are paced that always leave me a little bored in the middle. I'm the guy who always says that boredom isn't exactly a bad thing. But when you are really sleepy from a long day's work followed by a long evening's cooking and cleaning and settling little kids disputes...it sometimes gets to be a bit much. Also --and I've noticed this more than once-- when you know a story pretty well and you are watching an adaptation of said story, there's very little to be surprised about. Yeah, I always get a little jazzed to see what a director has done with source material, but the surprise always seems to be missing from the experience. I never get to experience it for the first time. Instead, I watch, criticizing odd choices and elements that are either left out or oddly included in the final product.
I can't help but talk about the experience of In Cold Blood as a whole. We, like many Americans, have an odd obsession with True Crime. It's grizzly and probably bordering on inappropriate, knowing that we glean entertainment from someone's personal tragedy. But there is something fascinating about deep-diving into the psychology of the twisted and sadistic. There's that justification that comes in hiding behind the need for justice or the remembering the victim's tale. In Cold Blood is the OG true crime story, though. Reading Capote's book gives the vibe of a story told long-form, stressing the elements of a crime that can't be explored in a news report or an article. With the book, both my wife and I couldn't separate the knowledge that Truman Capote had to take a lot of liberties, forcing the text to be partially fictional. There are things that no one would possibly ever know, but he includes as part of his tale. With the film, there's almost another layer of distance from reality. Because the film isn't a documentary, but rather a morbid biopic, there's the attempt to create a straightforward narrative of Dick and Perry. Yes, Truman Capote makes Dick and Perry the focus of his book, but he breaks that up a bit more with the townspeople of the tiny Kansas hamlet who have been affected.
The reason why In Cold Blood is so loved and respected as a book comes from the sympathetic look at two killers. It never forgives them for what they did. Capote and, by proxy, Brooks never try to explain away the choices to murder this family in a way that would make them look like innocents. But they do come across as remarkably human. Their choices to murder come from the fallibility of humanity and the lifetime of moments that led a person to becoming a monster. While Capote definitely gets credit for introducing this element, I have to give Brooks the props for taking that humanity a bit further. Maybe it is the difference between concept and concrete, but the film really sells Perry's backstory as this torment that is over him the entire crime. Because we see so much of Perry's neuroses manifested in the film, that turn that he makes by the end of the film is haunting. Brooks and Blake (whose future history is as troubling as the character he portrays in this movie) show Perry as a child dealing with adult issues. He's emotionally this innocent, a child smashing his toys when things get overwhelming. We see that Perry knows the difference between right and wrong. He stops Dick from raping the Clutter girl because he's repulsed by the immorality of sexual sin. But then, he takes a shotgun in a fit of insanity and murders everyone in the house over a matter of fifty dollars.
Yeah, the pacing may not be the most compelling element of the film, but that's not why someone would want to watch In Cold Blood. It's about the psychology. While I don't really have a hankering to watch In Cold Blood again any time soon, the movie almost needs to be watched a second time. Brooks hides the events of the murder for the last act of the film. Capote kind of does the same thing, leaving us always to wonder which man did what action in the house. But the movie shows that they did...something... in the house, but we don't know what. So when we see Perry trying to maneuver his way post murder spree, we have to wonder what he did. Perry almost murders someone else. If we had a story of Dick being this insane bloodthirsty killer, we might sympathetically view Perry as this guy who is about to cross a line. But when we see that Perry is this guy who really has a violent streak in him, the movie reads as something very different.
When I started writing this, I saw Dick and Perry as the two protagonists. The more I think about it, we don't really get the psychology of Dick in the movie. Played by Scott Wilson, who would later play Hershel on The Walking Dead, Dick almost acts like this devil on Perry's shoulder. There's something definitely wrong with him, but we're never quite sure what. A lot of this stems out of the fact that Brooks keeps the camera on Perry. Perry is the one who views sexual acts from a place of distance. He's the one with the mommy issues. While we meet Dick's father, we can only make an intellectual association between Dick's actions and his history. Perry, we feel it because we see what he sees.
But, like I said, Neo Noir only works so well on me. I really want to love a lot of Neo Noir, but it just gets to be a bit tedious for me. It always feels a little cheap and under-budget. It has this weird pacing that makes me wait for scenes to get interesting. I'm ashamed of this feeling because I know it is all about the experience. But I also know that my mind starts drifting when nothing happens on screen for long periods of time. It's a good movie...but a movie that really requires me to be awake and jazzed to watch it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.