IN COLD BLOOD
Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Robert Blake, Scott Wilson,
Director: Richard Brooks
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 134 Minutes
Release Date: November 17, 2015
“It doesn't make sense. I mean what happened. It had nothing to do with the Clutters. They never hurt me. They just happened to be there. I thought Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman... I thought so right up to the time I cut his throat.”
Few films have accomplished such a feat as In Cold Blood. Just like the Truman Capote book it is based on, the film blurs the lines between fiction and reality in a way very few pieces of art are capable of doing. The production even went as far as to film scenes at the exact locations they actually took place, including the brutal murder at the heart of the story.
Another bold choice on the behalf of director Richard Brooks, was to cast two actors who bared an uncanny resemblance to the real life criminals. And such likenesses were found in then unknown actors Robert Blake and Scott Wilson. One has to wonder what was going on in both actors’ minds as they were recreating the actions of thieves/murderers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock.
The film documents the events in a fashion that is entirely fly on the wall, as if you are watching the events unfold as they happen. Perry (Blake) arrives by bus in Kansas City to meet up with Dick (Wilson) to pull off what is a seemingly simple heist. Dick received word from a fellow inmate that $10,000 was stashed in the property of the Clutter family in Holcomb. The two arrive at the house in the dead of night, realize no such money is there, and it ends with the four family members being brutally murdered.
Perry and Dick then hit the road, making it all the way to Mexico. And because of reasons that aren’t really explained, though easy for the viewer to assume why, they return to the US and are nabbed by the police in a heartbeat. The two are soon sentenced for their crime, both given a sentence of death by hanging.
It is in the concluding portions that In Cold Blood illustrates why it ranks among the greatest true crime films ever made. We aren’t shown the details of the murder when it occurs, but late in the film when Perry reflects on the moment prior to his hanging we do see what happened, and it remains nothing short of chilling. And the very final image of the film is one that no one who watches it will ever be able to forget.
One crucial difference the movie makes from its source material is that the focus is primarily on Perry and Dick, with barely any focus attributed to the Clutter family. Granted, Capote’s book didn’t really apply much focus to the victims, but far much more than what is given in the film. And yet the attention given to the psychological nature of the two killers, particularly that of Perry, is downright potent and unnerving.
A profound piece of filmmaking, with glorious black and white photography by the great Conrad Hall, who won on Oscar for his work, In Cold Blood is a rare case of a masterpiece of literature being transformed into a masterpiece of cinema. Everything from the attention to detail of the events to the performances to the look is of sheer brilliant quality. And nearly 50 years after its initial release, it remains an enthralling, effective masterwork.
I couldn’t wait to see how Criterion would deliver with this title and, as expected, I was visually blown away. The 4k mastering done on this release is nothing short of jaw dropping! Hell, it may just ranks amongst the greatest Black and White releases to ever grace the Blu-ray format. The black levels are as rich and deep as you will ever see for this movie, and the level of texture and detail is about as high quality as it gets. For Criterion, this their release to beat for 2015 in terms of astounding video quality, be it color or B&W!
I had no idea this release had been given a DTS HD mix until I saw the packaging. And boy, does it deliver! The 5.1 mix jumps at you right away once Quincy Jones’ score accompanies the opening shot. What’s more, the entire film doesn’t let up from that moment, with dialogue sounding tremendously clear and pivotal moments of violence sounding even more jarring. For a late 60s release, this is as great as Blu-ray sound mixes get!
Another terrific assembly of supplements courtesy of Criterion for this release. Even with the absence of a commentary, there is still plenty to leave you awestruck. Included is an interview with cinematographer John Bailey about the work of cinematographer Conrad Hall, as well as an interview with film historian Bobbi O'Steen on the film's editing, an interview with film critic and jazz historian Gary Giddins about Quincy Jones's music for the, and an interview with writer Douglass K. Daniel on director Richard Brooks. Also featured is a retro interview with Richard Brooks from a 1998 episode of the French television series "Cinema cinemas", as well as the short documentary "With Love From Truman", from 1966 featuring Truman Capote himself in addition to two archival NBC interviews with Capote: one following the author on a 1966 visit to Holcomb, Kansas, and the other conducted by Barbara Walters in 1967. Lastly, there is a Trailer and a terrific insert featuring an essay by critic Chris Fujiwara.
As far as true crime depictions go, you will always be hard pressed to find one as potent and painstakingly detailed as In Cold Blood. Criterion’s Blu-ray release is hands down one of the year’s finest all around offerings and is a must own for both fans of the film and avid disc collectors!