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1,426 Ratings

Killer of Sheep

Directed by Charles Burnett
United States, 1978


Filmmaker Charles Burnett’s 1978 feature-length film debut and student diploma film, Killer of Sheep, examines the black Los Angeles ghetto of Watts in the mid-1970s through the eyes of Stan, a sensitive dreamer who is growing detached and numb from the psychic toll of working at a slaughterhouse.

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Killer of Sheep Directed by Charles Burnett
Through its collection of loose, detail-rich vignettes, Killer of Sheep remains sharply, but never didactically, attuned to the steady psychic corrosion caused by economic uncertainty. Just as expertly, Burnett captures the activities of children — those residents of Watts who, though bound by arbitrary rules, still enjoy anarchic freedom.
May 16, 2017
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The film is too warm to be scathing. Instead, much like Stan, KILLER OF SHEEP feels innocent and unassuming. It’s a sincere statement by a young director that earns its comparisons to the classics of Italian neorealism. And like those classics, Burnett’s sense of realism is universal: The characters’ victories and defeats are all small—a stroke of the knee and a smirk, a flat tire, a scraped elbow—but feel earth shattering in the moment.
June 10, 2016
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The movie has the feel of a blues ballad, in that the sorrows it depicts nonetheless rise to a cinematic exultation, a joy in existence itself. And, like a jazz musician, Burnett makes use of all sorts of sources—popular and formal, old and new—as the basis for his spontaneous yet complex visual lyricism.
April 27, 2010
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