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1 item from 1996

Film review: 'In Cold Blood'

21 November 1996 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Remakes can be curious entities, at times nothing so much as pallid retakes of the original effort.

However, in the case of the CBS miniseries "In Cold Blood", once again based on Truman Capote's pioneering true-crime masterpiece, the attempt yields something new and powerful. Though different in approach from the riveting black-and-white feature film that Richard Brooks directed in 1967, CBS' four-hour presentation with Anthony Edwards, Eric Roberts and Sam Neill is a spare yet resonant telling of evil at large.

With a minimum of dialogue and exposition, the latest "In Cold Blood" reveals itself an unadorned picture of bloody transgression and serrated sin loose in the heartland. By the artful absence of what is not said or shown, a kind of dramatic negative space, CBS' "In Cold Blood" hits with demanding force.

Here two losers become killers, pursued by those who are legally and ethically doing their job of policing. We meet those responsible for a case of murder in 1959, wherein a Kansas family was slaughtered while the rest of their farming community slept. And so we witness events leading up to this horrible slaying as well as the subsequent hunt by the Kansas Bureau of Investigations.

As judiciously scripted by Benedict Fitzgerald and discerningly directed by Jonathan Kaplan, we are fully plunged into the dark, unquiet world of death and violence where delusive dreams and unquenchable longing takes four lives.

Moreover, Edwards and Roberts, as the drifting killers plagued by sooty vagaries and grubby whims, make uncomfortably pressing the dumb nature of errant evil; the blank, dead-end ways of two men adrift in their own lives, cut off from the larger context of cause and effect. Perry Smith (Roberts) and Dick Hickock (Edwards) found one another while serving prison time.

Now out of the slammer, they are looking to pull off what Hickock sees as the big crime (he calls it "a cinch, a perfect score"), the two having sloppily schemed to rob well-off farmer Herb Clutter (Kevin Tighe), who supposedly has stashed his cash in a home safe. There will be no witnesses. Clutter and his kin are to be murdered once the money is gotten.

As Hickock and Smith roam the gamy side of the American Dream, Clutter and kin stand as the very model of homegrown purity and honor, churchgoers who have achieved much. Clutter is an inward but good man who works hard providing for his ill wife Bonnie (Gillian Barber) and their kids (Robbie Bowen, Margot Finley). But like all perfect families, there are imperfections under the patina.

And then all does comes to grief when, on a still Sunday in November, Smith and Hickock enter the Clutters' home, only to find there is no safe, no hidden money. The family is cruelly executed, and Hickock and Smith make off with $41. After passing some bum checks they head south to Mexico. Now KBI's Alvin Dewey (Neill), a methodical and deliberate man and a friend of the Clutters, dedicates himself to capturing the killers. As Dewey states at a press conference, "However long it takes, I'm going to know what happened in that house."

Insistent and unrelenting, this TV version of a wicked, bloody act is often difficult and disagreeable to watch; a rendering coolly and edgily conjured by production designer Mark Freeborn and crisply etched into memory by director of photography Peter Woeste's haunting and lyrical compositions.

Here the American scene looms with barren, empty remove, imbued with the tenebrous worry and moody loss of something painted by Edward Hopper. Bedrooms and roadside hash joints are like the peeling, forgotten chambers of the heart, dimly known and seldom ventured fully into. As well as the visuals, Hummie Mann's haunting score creates a penetrating presence of suffering and surrender, abandonment and desertion without absolution or relief.



Pacific Motion Pictures

and Hallmark Entertainment

Executive producer Robert Halmi Sr.

Producer Tom Rowe

Associate producers George Horie, David W. Rose

Director Jonathan Kaplan

Writer Benedict Fitzgerald

Based on the book by Truman Capote

Music Hummie Mann

Production designer Mark Freeborn

Art director Scott Dobbie

Editor Michael Ornstein

Director of photography Peter Woeste

Casting Julie Selzer

Canadian casting Lynne Carrow

Cast: Anthony Edwards, Eric Roberts, Sam Neill, Leo Rossi, Kevin Tighe, Louise Latham, Gwen Verdon, Bethel Leslie, L.Q. Jones, Gillian Barber

Airdates: Sunday, November 24 and

Tuesday, November 26, 9-11 p.m.


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1 item from 1996

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