A film that borderlines on greatness.
D. Litton | Wilmington, NC | 11/26/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"In my 11th grade English class, we were given a study on the case of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, two college students who came from well-to-do families, who committed a most gruesome act of murder against a small boy by the name of Bobby Franks. The question throughout our studies: why would two well-off young men, with everything going for them, do such a thing to ruin their futures? Tom Kalin's "Swoon" answers that question in gritty detail, using an unrelenting style that is admirable but brings little emotion to the film's central story. Told in black and white, with small bits of narration cast into the sequence of events, the movie provides us a look we've never seen before at the duo, one that is intriguing at times, though becomes tedious and dismal in others. Daring in its approach to reveal the truth behind the scandal, Kalin's script goes into the relationship of Loeb and Leopold, whose sexual relationship with one another serves as the drive for their crimes and grievances against others. Their murder of the Franks child, to them, was little more than a promise kept by Loeb to Leopold, while to the rest of the community, it was a sheer act of horror for which, everyone hoped, they would pay with their lives. But this new theory that becomes the center of the story is never quite full of the energy it needs to make it more engrossing. There is a certain amount of gratification with the exploration of the relationship between the two; in one scene, Leopold tells a shrink of a slave/master fantasy, which describes his views of his relationship with Loeb. The two find themselves together not out of want, but out of a need for one another, which makes for some very twisted yet intriguing mind games between the two. The way the material is handled creates a problem: there's no energy to it. Throughout the second half of the film, primarily after their arrest and imprisonment, the movie loses what little momentum it had reserved, settling into stages of boredom without becoming absurd or redundant. The black and white photography is in the film's favor, placing us in Chicago during the mid-20's with an authenticity that accentuates the time and setting. Actors Daniel Schlachet (Loeb) and Craig Chester (Leopold) are convincing in their portrayal of Loeb and Leopold as emotionless, and without remorse for the crime. So what is it about "Swoon" that keeps it from being a first-rate film? I just don't know. Here is a film that borderlines on greatness, boasting a daring story with style and acting to boot, and yet it never seems to cross the line into something interesting. It doesn't have the spark needed to make the story worth getting into; there's no emotional drive or connectivity, which allows us to get into the plot only so much before we start wondering what we should be feeling for it."
A stunningly beautiful and original film
D. Litton | 06/21/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Swoon" starts out with a surrealistic reading of Leopold van Sacher-Masoch's "Venus in Furs." The tone set in this opening scene, both in the artistic and narrative sense, continues throughout the film. Told first through the journal entries of its two main characters and then through an objective, reporter-like narration, "Swoon" presents the story of the real-life murderers in a fashion that is both historically accurate and cinematic. The research is admirable, creating a depiction of the events that stays true to real life and allowing the audience to peek inside the minds of Leopold and Loeb. (Save for the film's one flaw: a minor inaccuracy that occurs when Leopold mentions a fantasy that is sadistic, when he was in fact masochistic.) The performances delivered by the two leads are breathtaking, turning the characters into humane figures while never trying to excuse their actions. The directing is ingenius, creating an atmosphere that not only cultivates a true sense of the trial of the killers, but of the entire twenties era. I would recommend this movie to anyone who has any interest in history, cinema, or is simply able to enjoy a complex story-line. While the film may not be suitable for an audience that is not prepared to exercise its mind, it would be a pity for anyone to miss such a work of art. Suspenseful, humorous, dramatic, and heartbreaking, it is a story that stands both as a documentary and a brilliant story. "Swoon" is an example of what historical cinema should be like: unnervingly beautiful and strikingly unforgetable."
A Vanity Murder And Its Aftermath
Tom Without Pity | A Major Midwestern Metropolis | 05/12/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a review for SWOON, a DVD release from Strand Releasing
of this 1992 film about the 1924 Leob and Leopold case concerning
the kidnapping and murder of 14-year old Bobby Franks.
As others have stated SWOON is not exactly a straight forward
telling of the crime but more an impressionistic examination of the
lives and atmosphere surrounding the two pre-adult
miscreants and something of a never before presentation of
how the crime happened from their own notes and confessions.
Of course this is all told in a surreal and impressionist style,
with some artistic speculation on their associates and
their mental states that led up to a "Crime of the Century."
This black and white film is, despite the artsy veneer, fairly graphic
in depicting the homosexual relationship between the two principals
as well as some of their party guests.
If nothing else, I would bet that SWOON is an emotionally accurate
depiction of what occured and for that it shoud be applauded. But by
concentrating on the murderers and their fate, the victim
is somewhat forgotten, which is a shame if you ask me.
But in a way young Bobby Franks is almost incidental to these two
self obssessed college students who really seemed to believe that what
they considered to be their superior intelligence almost gave them
the right to ccmmit the perfect crime.
SWOON does not really depict Clarance Darrow's dramatic plea for their
lives which is widely credited with keeping them from the gallows.
But it does depict their lives in prison and the fate of Dick Loeb
who did not survive his life sentence. SWOON does show Nathan Leopold
during his long sentence and afterwords during his parole.
All and all, SWOON is a fairly satisfying character study told
in a very stylistic and somewhat sensational manner for which I
give it a four star rating.
A Monumental Film
Amos Lassen | Little Rock, Arkansas | 01/27/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
A monumental film
Amos Lassen and Cinema Pride
"Swoon" (Strand Releasing) is not a new film but it is one that if you haven't seen it, you should. If you have seen it, now is time for you to revisit. "Swoon" ushered in the age of what was called in 1992 the "new queer cinema". The movie is based on the scandalous murder trial of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb--a trial that had been written about across America in headlines and had already had a book, "Compulsion" and two movies (Hitchcock's "Rope" and "Compulsion") made about it. But the story had never before looked at from the queer point of view. Tom Kalin took the story, studied the facts, and created this beautiful black and white film about what really happened. It stars Craig Chester ("Adam and Steve") and Daniel Schlachet. I finally succumbed to that little voice inside of me that told me to buy it and I am glad I waited because it now comes as a director's cut with lots of extras.
This is such a compelling film that I felt obligated to learn everything about the original case and I found myself sitting in the library looking up old articles and newspaper stories.
Tom Kalin gives the truest account of one of the most notorious and infamous crimes of the twentieth century. How was it possible that two rich genius college students who were lovers as well could murder for thrill? Kalin focuses on the homoerotic subplot of the issue and the film brings it out beautifully. Two good boys, superlatively educated from two good Jewish homes committed a crime that rocked America. The elegance of the film and the subtlety of the performances question the gay elements of the case in a way that was never really done before. He even takes the story past the courtroom to show how the perpetrators of this horrific crime met their deaths. A pretty picture it is not--it is brutal and hard to forget. Kalin does not hold back and is indifferent to the martyrdom of positive images concerning same-sex couples and the two young and gay killers. "Swoon" defies generalization and intelligence and stands alone in the canon of queer film. It is audacious, it is stylish. It is provocative and stunning and seductive. It examines manners as if they had never been examined before. Kalin makes no excuses and this film is his monument. Both visionary and haunting, it is not easy to forget and these are what make a movie great. We don't have many like this and we should be happy that we have "Swoon". It is among the best of the movies I have ever seen and considering that it is and considering that it still holds up some sixteen years after its original release says something about it.