US, Canada / 180 minutes / color with some bw / Pacific Motion, CBS Dir: Jonathan Kaplan Pr: Tom Rowe Scr: Benedict Fitzgerald Story: In Cold Blood (1966 “nonfiction novel”) by Truman Capote Cine: Peter Woeste Cast: Anthony Edwards, Eric Roberts, Sam Neill, Leo Rossi, Louise Latham, Gwen Verdon, Bethel Leslie, L.Q. Jones, Gillian Barber, Kevin Tighe, Don Davis, Margot Finley, Troy Evans, Robbie Bowen, Brad Greenquist, Tom McBeath, Stella Stevens, Ryan Reynolds, Lindsey Campbell, Emily Perkins, Campbell Lane.
A remake of In Cold Blood (1967) that obviously tells much the same story—occasionally with snatches of the same dialogue—although with many differences in the details and in various matters of emphasis. Although, as in the earlier movie, the murders are shown in flashback toward the end of the movie, this flashback is proportionally very much shorter, while the aftermath of the killers’ capture is likewise given far less weight.
Here we learn far more about the lives of the Clutters; by the halfway mark of what was first aired as a miniseries but what’s in essence a single very long movie, Perry Smith (Roberts) and Dick Hickock (Edwards) have not long invaded the farmhouse. The dynamics within the family are somewhat different, with Kenyon (Bowen) being very much the kid brother, the neurotic Bonnie (Barber) being still reclusive and frightened but having more of a role in family doings, Herb (Tighe) still being a genial pillar of the community but showing more of his bigoted side—he’s damned if his daughter is going to wed any Catholic like her beloved Bobby Rupp (Reynolds)—and that daughter, Nancy (Finley), who serves as our identification character within the family, being portrayed as a far more outgoing, spunkier personality than the one depicted in the earlier movie; we can predict that, had death not intervened, she would soon have erupted in open rebellion against the strictures of the father she loved.
The Clutters (Kevin Tighe, Robbie Bowen, Gillian Barber, Margot Finley), herded into their bathroom and awaiting their fate.
A major variation in this part of the movie is the (innocent) involvement of the Clutters’ hired man, Alfred Stoecklein (McBeath). For a brief time he swims into the cops’ focus as a possible collaborator or facilitator.
The dynamic between Perry and Dick is different too. (That between Perry and his father Tex [Jones] is almost ignored.) Although supposed best friends, they each have a deep strain of contempt for the other, and often they let it show. A suggestion of Perry’s that’s mentioned in the earlier movie is given more emphasis here: that the murders sprang from the unstable tension between him and Dick, that the unfortunate Clutters simply got in the way—were merely, so to speak, the stage upon which the resolution of the personality clash was enacted. Dick’s trait as borderline-pedophile sexual predator is brought much more to the fore, a trait that clearly disgusts Perry. Dick’s viciousness and his fundamental cowardice are likewise closer to the surface; Edwards renders him as a smiling, superficially charming but self-absorbed monster, someone easy to loathe. After their capture Perry maintains that, while he murdered Herb and Kenyon, Dick killed the two women; it’s only as the hour of execution nears that he makes a point of telling KBI Special Agent Alvin Dewey (Neill) that it was he, Perry, who killed all four, and asks Dewey to pass this on to Dick’s mother Eunice (Latham), to give her soul some ease.
The bulk of the movie’s in color, with the flashbacks in black-and-white. This use of black-and-white has the probably unintended effect of reminding us of the earlier movie. That could have been unfortunate were it not for the fact that this remake is itself by no means a second-rate offering. The performances of the principals—especially Roberts—are as committed as one might wish for, and there’s no sense anywhere that anything has been skimped for the sake of meeting a TVM budget. To say that the screenplay eschews some of the psychological depth of its predecessor is not to say that it’s empty—as noted, this is more a matter of emphasis than of inferiority—and the subtlety with which, close to the movie’s end, the relationship between Perry and Special Agent Dewey is revealed to us is exemplary.
The evocative soundtrack by Hummie Mann includes three songs based on the lyrics of wannabe songwriter Perry Smith and performed by Roberts.
On Amazon.com: In Cold Blood – The Complete Mini-Series