In Cold Blood, while not being the most stylish movie of its time, delivers a tale that ramps up your interest until its final moment, an abrupt climax to what is not as much of a crime drama as you would imagine.
The movie, at very least, spurs on my urge to read Capote's interpretation of events. What starts off a simple story with less than stellar dialogue quickly begins to piece together an interesting tale of two men on the run, climaxing with the revelation of the crime they committed and the damage that drove them to it. Interspersed are lines that deserve a place in the annals of movie history, smart, sharp and restrained dialogue, throwing down questions that tear at the foundations of our culture and are by no means less pertinent today than they were 40 years ago: Does the media act as a proactive force (or even responsibly) in its dealings with high-profile crime and criminals? Does capital punishment help deter crime or does it add to the list of murders committed senselessly? And does the government do anything to deter the continuation of these circumstances or does it merely persist in the motions of an endless circle?
Most importantly, this movie is a character study. We get glimpses of the Capote-like reporter, the driven but thoughtful state agents, bystanders, and the shadowy ghosts of the murders' families, but the important characterizations hone in on the murderers themselves. And the plot itself is constructed entirely from following these hated and pitiable characters. Robert Blake turns in a truly compelling performance as a very human character, a man haunted by his past, his upbringing, and his family, and unravels slowly under the weight of those traumas, and this film rightly chooses to make him its central character. The movie plays out his past slowly, dealing the final, most important pieces in the puzzle just minutes before the final execution of our characters and its cold, resounding end.
And this climax features all the finest moments of the film, coming together to paint the most excellent imagery, pacing, and characterization of the entire film, heading full speed into the abrupt end. It's the type of movie that feels like a decent journeyman piece of filmmaking until the end, when it seems to mentally transform into a much more powerful movie. And that is one of the signs of a great movie, one that isn't necessarily a brilliant piece of moviemaking skill, but that has you walk away from the movie thinking about everything you've just seen.