Stanley Kubrick's classic film The Killing has been described as one of the greatest heist movies of all time, but it is more than simply a heist movie, the same way that his later film The Shining is more than just a horror movie. In both films, Kubrick transcends the genre to tell a pessimistic story about human nature and the human condition.

The Killing is a story about a group of men who plot an elaborate scheme to steal millions of dollars from a horsetrack. The mastermind of this plan is Sterling Hayden's character, a man just out of prison who is looking for one last big score. He recuits into his scheme a bartender and a cashier from the horsetrack, a common thug to start a fight intended to create a diversion, a sharpshooter whose role is to take down the lead horse in the race, and a corrupt police officer.

The characters in The Killing can be divided into two groups: those desperate souls who hope that the heist can bring some sort of salvation to their lives, and the others, who are already hardened by life and who are simply trying to make a quick buck. Hayden and the cashier can be put in this first group; one can seem a glimmer of hope in their eyes. This will be the job that sets everything right in their lifes. The cop, the sharpshooter, and particularly the Russian thug are in the second group. The sharpshooter gains access to the restricted parking lot next to the track by making small talk and sharing war stories with the parking lot attendant, a black man. But when the man won't leave him alone and continues to come by and check on him, the sharpshoot snaps and says, "Go away, nigger". It's a startling moment as his true personality manifests itself. Similarly affecting is the fight that the Russian thug stages. He's not a bad man, he's just trying to make a living. He's simply going through the motions in fighting with the security guards, and one can see the dispassionate, somewhat sad resignation he feels in simply living out his fate.

In the end, everyone loses, hopes are shattered, and lives are lost. "What's the difference?", is Hayden's classic final line, as he gives up instead of running from the authorities. What's the difference, indeed. This film, like most of Kubrick's, is almost barren of any real hope or optimism. The only hope is to get through life unscathed. Those who are happiest are those who don't ask for much. It's a cruel world.