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by Rob Gonsalves

"Intriguing true-crime character study."
5 stars

An exotic mood piece, based on the infamous Leopold-Loeb case, that probably didn’t win director Tom Kalin many friends in the gay community.

Still, Kalin is honest enough to point out that for the American society of the 1920s, these affluent Jewish homosexual child-murderers were the perfect criminals. A nation looked on in disgust, and the pair were convicted as much because of their relationship as because of their crime — which they were entirely guilty of: Kalin also doesn’t shy away from presenting them as amoral bastards. But he doesn’t do what you’d expect, which is to blame homophobia for making them what they were.

Despite the many stylistic touches, this is as dispassionate a take on the case as was the 1957 book The Amazing Crime and Trial of Leopold and Loeb, except that Kalin pretty much ignores the pair’s defense attorney — Clarence Darrow, who got them out of the death penalty by arguing their insanity based on their sexuality. As Richard Loeb, the colder and more aggressive of the two, Daniel Schlachet commands our attention without being the least bit likable; Craig Chester has the more difficult role and, I think, gives the better performance as Nathan Leopold Jr., a thrill-seeker who probably never meant to get in so far over his head.

If you come away wanting to see more of the murderous duo, you can add Compulsion (1959, Richard Fleischer) and Rope (1948, Alfred Hitchcock) to your Netflix queue; the latter was inspired by the pair's exploits. Other movies, such as both versions of Funny Games, seem to take Leopold and Loeb as their muses.

As for Kalin, "Swoon" established him as a director to watch, though it was sixteen years before he made another feature film (2008's "Savage Grace").

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originally posted: 04/04/07 04:01:36
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/13/03 Charles Tatum Too artsy look at the Leopold and Loeb murder 3 stars
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  11-Sep-1992 (R)


  26-Nov-1992 (M)

Directed by
  Tom Kalin

Written by
  Tom Kalin
  Hilton Als

  Daniel Schlachet
  Craig Chester
  Ron Vawter
  Michael Kirby
  Michael Stumm
  Valda Z. Drabla

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