In meeting in Kansas, ex-cons Perry Smith and Dick Hickock are breaking several conditions of their respective paroles. The meeting, initiated by Dick, is to plan and eventually carry out a robbery based on information he had received from a fellow inmate about $10,000 cash being locked in a hidden safe in the home of the farming Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas. After the robbery, they plan on going to Mexico permanently to elude capture by the police. Each brings a necessary personality to the partnership to carry out the plan, Dick who is the brash manipulator, Perry the outwardly more sensitive but unrealistic dreamer with a violent streak under the surface. Perry literally carries all his dreams in a large box he takes with him wherever he goes. The robbery does not go according to plan in any respect, the pair who ultimately hogtie and execute all four members of the Clutter family, only coming away from the home with $43 in cash. As Perry and Dick go on the run, a murder ... Written by
Remarkable, disturbing film about the true-life, senseless, brutal murder of a small-town family, along with the aftermath, and examination of the lives of the killers, Dick Hickok and Perry Smith.
No matter how much time goes by, or how dated this film may look, it still resonates the utter incomprehensibility of criminal acts such as this.
This really traces multiple tragedies: The tragedy, brutality and senselessness of the murder of the Clutter family, a decent farm family in small-town Holcomb, Kansas; and the wasted, brutal and sad lives of Hickok and Smith.
An interesting point is made in the film: that neither of these two immature, scared, petty criminals would have ever contemplated going through with something like this alone. But, together, they created a dangerous, murderous collective personality; one that fed the needs and pathology of each of them. They push each other along a road of "proving" something to each other. That they were man enough to do it, to carry it out; neither wants to be seen as too cowardly to complete their big "score"; an unfortunate and dangerous residue of the desolate lives they led. These were two grown-up children, who live in a criminal's world of not backing down from dares; who constantly need to prove manhood and toughness. in this instance, these needs carried right through to the murder of the Clutters.
The film contains a somewhat sentimentalized look at the Clutter family, but the point is made. These were respected, law-abiding, small-town people, who didn't deserve this terrifying fate. The movie also gives us a sense of the young lives of Hickok and Smith. Perry Smith, whose early life was filled with security and love, but watched in horror as alcohol took his family down a tragic path. Hickok, poor and left pretty much to his own devices, not able to see how he fit in, using his intelligence and charm to con everyone he came into contact with.
An interesting, and maybe the first, look at capital punishment, and what ends we hope to achieve. Is this nothing more than revenge killing for a murder that rocked a nation at a time when we had not yet had to fully face that there might be such predators among us, or does putting these guys at the end of a rope truly provide a deterent to the childish and brutal posturing of men like these? Is it possible to deter men who live lives of deceit, operating under the radar, believing they fool everyone they come into contact with? To be deterred, you must believe it's possible you will be caught. Is it possible to deter these men who believe they are too clever to be caught?; who have committed hundreds of petty crimes, and got away with them? This was supposed to be a "cinch", "no witnesses".
When caught, Hickok finds he can't charm and con the agents the way he had department store clerks. Smith, who believes he deserves such a fate anyway, who seemed to be the only one who truly grasped the gravity of what they had done, willingly tells the story when he learns that Hickok has cowardly caved in. Hickok blinked first. A silly game of chicken between two immature, emotionally damaged, dangerous men.
Fascinating psychological thriller, telling a story of a horrendous crime in this nation's history. Stunning portrayals by Robert Blake and Scott Wilson. These roles made their careers.
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