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Film / The Killing

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The Killing is a 1956 Film Noir directed by Stanley Kubrick.

It follows the last heist of career criminal Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden). With 2 million dollars at stake in the racetrack counting room, Clay sets up an elaborate plan to get the money and get everyone involved their share. At the time of the heist the film splits off to show the perspective of every character involved in the heist.

The Killing has become a Cult Classic and is considered to be Kubrick's first masterpiece.

Provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Leo, the loan shark to whom Kennan is in hock. He never actually says a threatening word, and readily agrees to extend another couple of weeks of credit, remaining mild while adding on hundreds of dollars in interest for the privilege and wishing Kennan well as he leaves.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Johnny at the end, when his entire scheme is blown and he finds himself being confronted by two undercover policemen. His girlfriend urges him to run, but Johnny shamefacedly gives it up right there.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Marvin proposes to Johnny that they run off with the money together in a manner that has romantic undertones. Johnny's decline to the offer was followed by Marvin appearing at the horse track noticeably drunk and upset.
  • Anti-Hero: Johnny Clay. He's a thief, after all, but he isn't mean about it, and he comes off as sympathetic.
  • Asshole Victim: Nikki, Randy Kennan, Sherry, Val, and Val's gunman.
  • The Bartender: Mike O'Reilly.
  • Berserk Button: George gets two of these: When Sherry is implying to him that Johnny raped her, and when Sherry's lover, Val, tries to stick the criminals up, demanding to know where the money is as well as George the "jerk." George angrily responds, "The jerk's right here!" and guns down Val and his lackey.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Bursts open at the worst possible time.
  • The Caper: The robbing of a racetrack counting room.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Sebastian the poodle.
    • The attendant's horseshoe.
    • The broken catch on the suitcase.
  • Chiaroscuro: Especially prominent in scenes with George.
  • Confess to a Lesser Crime: Kennan reports his car radio malfunctioning just before the robbery to allay any suspicions about why he isn't responding to calls. He later tells the crew that his captain didn't believe this story, and is convinced that Kennan was holed up somewhere drinking on duty. He points out that this may prove to be an even better alibi than the original plan, as the captain's certainty won't allow for the possibility of Kennan getting up to anything else during that time.
    "So I guess I'll have to break down an' admit it and accept my punishment."
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sherry fits this trope to a T, especially in her first scene.
  • Dirty Cop: Officer Randy Kennan is part of the crew.
  • Film Noir: Stanley Kubrick's take.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on the novel Clean Break by Lionel White.
  • Foreshadowing: Sherry's first appearance in the film has her complaining about nonexistent stomach pains. She dies via gunshot wound to the stomach.
  • Genius Bruiser: Maurice Oboukhoff, played by professional wrestler Kola Kwariani, spends his time playing chess when he isn't holding his own against 6 or so mooks. Kwariani was himself an avid chess player.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Maurice gets a beer bottle cracked over his head during the fight. He doesn't even seem to notice.
  • Hard Head: During the brawl he stages to distract the guards, Maurice gets a beer bottle smashed over his head, and pays it no attention at all.
  • Henpecked Husband: George is constantly nagged and humiliated and even cuckolded by his shrewish wife Sherry. Eventually he takes a terrible revenge.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Elisha Cook Jr. in the role as George the Henpecked Husband sees him at his most Ineffectually Sympathetically Villainous.
  • Inside Job: George Peatty, the betting window teller at the racetrack. His role is to unlock the door to the counting room so they can gain access. Mike O'Reilly, one of the track bartenders, is tasked with getting a gun onto the track premises and helping Maurice kick off his diversion.
  • Ironic Echo: "Just one big joke without a punchline..."
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In order to get to his sniping position, Nikki befriends and bribes a black parking lot attendant. Grateful for what he presumed to be an act of genuine kindness, the attendant repeatedly bothers Nikki and offers him a horseshoe for good luck on his horse race betting. Nikki resorts to calling him a nigger to get rid of him, prompting the angered attendant to throw the horseshoe to the ground. The horseshoe ends up being Nikki's undoing; it pops his tire as he tried to flee from security, leading to his death.
  • Loan Shark: Policeman Randy Kennan's reason for joining the caper.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: Johnny Clay wears a clown mask and hat at the climax of the caper.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Sherry, who had poor George wrapped around her finger the entire time.
  • Menacing Mask: Johnny Clay wears a rubber clown mask when he and his also-masked gang rob a racetrack at the film's climax.
  • Narrator: Done in a very serious Dragnet style, with some unnecessary detail, like telling the audience that a character arrived at the bus station at exactly 11:19.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: George the Henpecked Husband ends up with the highest body count in the movie, killing Val and his gunman, and even after being badly wounded, manages to reach his apartment and kill Sherry before dying.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Nikki pretends to be crippled and to need crutches to walk in order to persuade the parking lot attendant to allow him to park in the position he needs to shoot the horse.
  • Oh, Crap!: Johnny's expression when he sees all his money fly away tells the whole story.
  • Plot-Sensitive Latch: The suitcase containing the money bursts open when it falls off the baggage cart when the cart swerves to avoid a dog.
  • Punch Clock Villains: Everyone involved in the caper except Johnny Clay.
    "None of these men are criminals in the usual sense. They've all got jobs, they all live seemingly normal, decent lives. But they've got their problems and they've all got a little larceny in them." - Johnny Clay.
  • Senseless Violins: Johnny gets a gun into a motel room by hiding it in a guitar case.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: We're introduced to Johnny and Fay this way, and later the obligatory fade out when Sherry meets with Val.
  • Shoo the Dog: Nikki befriends the black parking lot attendant a little too well, causing the attendant to keep showing up to chat when Nikki is getting ready to take his shot. Nikki eventually has to call him a nigger to get rid of him.
  • Simultaneous Arcs: During the heist. The film keeps jumping back and forth between different sets of characters as everyone executes their part in the intricate heist.
  • The Stoic: Johnny.
  • Takes Ten to Hold: Johnny hires wrestler Maurice Oboukhoff to create a distraction by starting a fight in the betting office at the racetrack. Maurice is so successful at this that he is only stopped by half a dozen guards literally piling on top of him and pinning him to the floor.
  • We Need a Distraction: Nikki's part in the caper is to shoot the leading horse in the race to guarantee that everyone's attention is focused on the track while the robbery goes down. It also serves the benefit of keeping any winnings from being paid out.
  • Wrestler in All of Us: Maurice, played by the pro wrestler Kola Kwariani, quickly gets his shirt ripped off and starts throwing down classic pro wrestling moves on the security guards.