Craig Chester as Nathan Leopold. Note the gorgeous linen!
What is it?
An American independent film from 1992 directed by Tom Kalin.
What’s it about?
It’s the story of the Leopold and Loeb case from 1924, where two young male lovers murdered a boy for kicks. This was also the inspiration for one of my favourite Hitchcock films, Rope (1948). But this is much more faithful to the actual story, even using newsreel footage (or faux newsreel footage).
My reaction to the film is a bit “on the one hand, on the other hand.”
God, you’re such a Libra. Okay, so, on the first hand?
The film is visually stunning, shot in sensuous black and white, with lots of lingering over crisp white linen sheets and shirts (and underwear). It’s beautiful, packed with gorgeous images. The film kept me hooked just by its visual allure.
On top of that, though, it also has a real documentary feel, with the actors who portray Leopold and Loeb looking uncannily like them! Sometimes it’s as if the film itself is a newsreel. And there’s a real erotic charge between these guys. So, yes, I enjoyed it a lot.
That all sounds irremediably good. So what’s the “on the other hand”?
I was a wee bit disappointed that I didn’t get much insight into why these guys committed this murder. The film is very strong on visuals but relatively light on dialogue, investigation of character, psychology. Maybe that was intentional: murder as a purely aesthetic experience, with the film mirroring the heartlessness of the murderers. This is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen that is centred around violence. Even the spurting blood is somehow alluring. Hmmm. Maybe that's the idea ... Disturbing.
Yes, I’ll give this one a star. The Leopold–Loeb case is such a highlight (or lowlight) in gay history, and what this film does well, it does surpassingly well. But if you’re looking for psychological insight, you won’t find it here; that will have to wait for another film. And if you happen to be gay, you may feel a bit uncomfortable enjoying the aesthetics of two guys committing a murder. And what (if anything) does their blood lust have to do with their sexuality? This film doesn't offer any answers.