Imagine if “Psycho” was shown entirely from Norman Bates’ perspective, going into excruciating detail about the mental trauma he was going through and how it messed with his sense of right and wrong, and you’d probably get something like “In Cold Blood.” This film adds to this perspective by giving it all a distinct documentary feel, by casting actors with little to no acting experience, and filming everything on location, including the actual house in which these terrible crimes took place in.
“In Cold Blood” is based off the book of the same name, written by Truman Capote, which itself was based on real events, chronicling the tales of Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and “Dick” Hickock (Scott Wilson), two ex-convicts that learn of a easy way to make lots of money by invading an ordinary suburban home. Things go horribly wrong, and a family of four is murdered, while Perry and Dick hit the road to hide from these crimes, all while feeling no remorse or regret for what they did.
Part of the reason I feel “In Cold Blood” worked as well as it did in 1967 was because it hit on the paranoia, fear and lose of innocence that America was feeling at the time when this news really hit. Not that there weren’t murders before this time, but rather senseless, violent killings that had no motives or logic to any of it, just death to innocent people for no good reason. The movie touches upon the fear that this could happen to anyone in our country at any moment, meaning no one is truly ever safe.
“In Cold Blood” is unsettling, to say the least. It portrays Perry and Dick as men who could snap at just about any moment, from little moments like the two of them picking up glass bottles on the side of the highway with a little boy and his grandfather, to quiet moments with just them talking about how they won’t go back to jail. It takes the time to delve into their psyche, trying desperately to explain what makes them do it, without ever giving a definitive answer, leaving these men shrouded in enough mystery that you don’t truly relate to them. That being said, the only reason this film works is because of the manic-depressive performances of Robert Blake and Scott Wilson that make each scene a wild, unexpected ride.
Overall, I respect “In Cold Blood” for taking so many chances for a film in 1967 and telling an authentic tale that is often very hard to sit through. Having the main characters of your film be murderers with no remorse is one thing, but to do so in such a brutal, documentary-like style makes this an unforgettable film. Any film about a serial killer, or tries to get into the mind of a criminal, owes everything to “In Cold Blood.”
Final Grade: B+