If you want to see a movie that really nails the pathology of bigotry, try writer-director Tom Kalin’s revisionist look at the 1924 Chicago trial of Leopold and Loeb — two gay, Jewish, eighteen-year-old intellectuals convicted of the “thrill killing” of thirteen-year-old Bobby Franks.
Kalin is not arguing the innocence of Nathan Leopold (Craig Chester) or Richard Loeb (Daniel Schlachet). His point is that contrary to the popular belief at the time, their homosexuality did not make them do it. Attorney Clarence Darrow (Robert Read) used their relationship as evidence of insanity and got them life sentences instead of the gallows.
Kalin’s experiment (shot on a shoestring over fourteen days) meets the test of a great film — it lets us view the familiar in astonishing new ways. Ellen Kuras’s stylized black-and-white cinematography offers one stunning image after another. The lovers’ bed sweeps into the courtroom, incarnating the public’s wildest imaginings. Previous Hollywood forays into the case — Compulsion and Hitchcock’s Rope — seem timid by comparison. Kalin brings a searching mind and a poet’s eye to Swoon. His haunting and visionary film is a stunning debut.