The Killers definitely fits well within the film noir genre. The story is convoluted, but was surprisingly easy to follow. Jim Reardon (Edmond O’Brien) works for an insurance company and is sent to look into the death of a man who was killed by two unknown gunmen. The Killers, based off of Ernest Hemingway’s short story of the same name, takes us on a suspenseful, intriguing murder mystery. It’s told mostly through the aid of flashbacks, and I have to wonder if the creators of the film were inspired by Citizen Kane. I love the way we’re dropped into the middle of the story and left to fill in the blanks. J.J. Abrams would have loved this film.
Burt Lancaster stars in his screen debut as The Swede, one of the main characters. I caught the end of Field of Dreams on TV the other night, which was his final film, so I find it fitfully ironic that I watched The Killers shortly after. Lancaster was by no means perfect in The Killers, but as his first role, he did a good job. He really pulls through with his raw emotionality in certain scenes.
And Ava Gardner is great as femme fatale Kitty Collins. She really brings a lot to her character. As a noir film I was pleasantly surprised at how the characters in the film had that rough and tough personality that we’re used to in the genre, but their sensitive, more fragile sides are also shown in different scenes as well. The Killers truly is a character driven story and it’s what makes it a great film. It’s about people that we learn to care about over time and we want to know the outcome. That said, I would have liked to see more motivation and development for certain characters.
The Killers also has some very impressive cinematography from Elwood Bredell. The overall atmosphere fits throughout the film, both light and dark. I really liked what he did with the opening title sequence. It starts with two characters driving in a car. Cut to a town street late at night with the credits. Part way through the credits the two mean walk towards the camera with some awesome lighting and rising tension. The following scene where the killing takes place is an amazing piece of camerawork and lighting. You can read Rick’s thoughts on the scene and watch the clip HERE. (Be warned that it does contain spoilers) There’s another scene involving a heist that is almost as good.
It really is a great film. At times it seems to think it’s more suspenseful than it really is, but dangit I was hooked. I was invested in the characters and generally interested in the story as a whole.
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