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Killer of Sheep: The Charles Burnett Collection

Killer of Sheep: The Charles Burnett Collection (2007)



Average Rating: 8.8/10
Reviews Counted: 71
Fresh: 69 | Rotten: 2

By turns funny, sad, and profound, Killer of Sheep offers a sympathetic and humane glimpse into inner-city life.


Average Rating: 8.5/10
Critic Reviews: 29
Fresh: 28 | Rotten: 1

By turns funny, sad, and profound, Killer of Sheep offers a sympathetic and humane glimpse into inner-city life.



liked it
Average Rating: 4/5
User Ratings: 4,468

My Rating

Movie Info

The first feature film from acclaimed independent African American filmmaker Charles Burnett, this intensely emotional drama concerns a man who makes his living at a slaughterhouse as he struggles for economic and emotional survival and tries to patch up his often strained relationship with his family. Shot on weekends over a period of several years and first shown publicly in 1977, Killer of Sheep slowly but surely began to develop a potent reputation among film enthusiasts; in 1981, it won


Art House & International, Drama

Charles Burnett

Nov 13, 2007

Milestone Film

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All Critics (77) | Top Critics (30) | Fresh (69) | Rotten (2) | DVD (11)

A film that is hard to forget.

November 9, 2007
Miami Herald
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It may fill you with despair or offer up relief, but you will not be unmoved.

September 7, 2007 Full Review Source: Detroit Free Press
Detroit Free Press
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As timeless as the human condition.

August 17, 2007 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
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Burnett's documentarian empathy, coupled with his easygoing skill as a dramatic essayist, result in a film that doesn't look, feel or breathe like any American work of its generation.

August 2, 2007 Full Review Source: Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
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[A] gem ...

June 14, 2007
Minneapolis Star Tribune
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A milestone of eloquent understatement that captures the daily life of have-nots as few American movies have.

June 8, 2007 Full Review Source: Boston Globe
Boston Globe
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It's to Burnett's credit that he is able to observe problems of class and race without narrowing his vision to become an 'issues movie' or a sermon.

May 18, 2010 Full Review Source: Looking Closer
Looking Closer

Nearly avant-garde in its purity

August 27, 2009 Full Review Source: CinePassion

The fantastic thing about this beautiful film is how little it tries to make a statement about anything; it is, simply, life.

July 30, 2009 Full Review Source: GreenCine

Burnett is a truly unsung cinematic movie pioneer, clearly in the vanguard in that lonely and trying battle to colorize, so to speak, ideas and experiences in film with his body of unheralded visionary work.

January 26, 2008 Full Review Source: NewsBlaze

A little known, long lost classic thankfully becomes available on DVD after decades of obscurity.

November 19, 2007 Full Review Source:

fills the screen with visual poetry that plays like intimate documentary

November 11, 2007 Full Review Source: Old School Reviews
Old School Reviews

It takes an eye-opening, unglamorous view of the black Los Angeles ghetto of the post-Watts riots.

October 29, 2007 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

There's a voyeuristic, woe-is-them quality to the film that makes me uncomfortable.

September 14, 2007 Full Review Source: Fresno Bee
Fresno Bee

Burnett's empathy for his characters is obvious, and his carefully composed vignettes provide a host of indelible images...

August 31, 2007 Full Review Source: Jam! Movies
Jam! Movies

Don't go to Killer of Sheep expecting a conventional movie experience. This is an art film, a realistic-yet-poetic examination of a time and place and the people stranded there.

August 3, 2007
Kansas City Star

...his [Burnett's] tale about a south central Los Angeles neighborhood is stunning, and it holds up remarkably well.

July 20, 2007 Full Review Source: Deseret News, Salt Lake City
Deseret News, Salt Lake City

...about staying put and standing up - about what it means to be a man, or more precisely an adult, in a battering world that, at the end of the day, leaves you too tired to move.

July 20, 2007 Full Review Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Not much seems to be happening in Killer of Sheep, but in reality every moment counts.

July 20, 2007
Salt Lake Tribune

It's truly rare to find something this original, honest and insightful.

July 2, 2007

Free of the ghetto clichés that fill the movies made by people who have never lived in one, Killer of Sheep is a strongly individual portrait of black, working-class America.

June 21, 2007 Full Review Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

A time capsule of 1970s style and attitude that remains utterly timeless in its respect for its characters and its recognition of the despair, passion, boredom, playfulness and cruelty nurtured not just by life in the ghetto but by life itself.

June 19, 2007
Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)

Audience Reviews for Killer of Sheep: The Charles Burnett Collection

Charles Burnett's "Kiiler Of Sheep" slid into the world between two popular waves of Black American cinema,the "blaxploitation" period of the early to mid-1970's,and the Spike Lee-led charge of revitalization of the Black Cinema renaissance during the 1980's and 1990's,"Killer of Sheep" fits in neither camp,being both daring and more quietly revolutionary than anything before those era,and it is one of those quality heartwarming black dramas of the 1970's right up there with "Sounder"(1972),and "Claudine"(1974),not to mention another heartwarming black family drama "Cornbread,Earl and Me"(1975).

Writer-Producer-Director Burnett anchored his exploration of black American,inner-city life on the story of Stan(Henry G. Sanders),a quiet,unexceptional man who works in a slaughterhouse to support his young family. They live in present day,circa 1977, Watts, California which is a section of South Central Los Angeles, when urban struggle wasn't yet synonymous with the soul-crushing despair of drugs,drive-by shootings,and a unbreakable cycle of poverty. Although the bloody,backbreaking work that Stan does is what gives the film its title(a title that honors the fact the he does an honest day's work without complaint)the real thrust of the picture is in it's nostalgia for a kind of innocent that was already fading by the time the film was made in 1977,at the height of the blaxploitation era(which this film is nowhere in between that). in which in the celebration of it's characters. Scenes of children playing in worn-down front yards,making toys or finding any object whenever they can;a picnic is planned,and the plan goes astray on real-life terms;Stan crawls underneath a kitchen sink to fix a broken pipe while the camera lingers on his soft,curled body, In all,"Killer of Sheep" sounds so unremarkable,but its simplicity that the film gives throughout. Filmed on location in South Central Los Angeles in the section of Watts,and shot on a low budget in black and white and was released through an small independent company upon its release in 1977,"Killer of Sheep" is astounding for being one of the few American films in which black characters are not metaphors for something or someone else. They're not simply variation of stereotype,or merely passive victims of or snarling reactors to racism,class struggle,or the crush of American life. Burnett's camera pierces behind facades and public personas of American black ness to show the human beings beneath them, He paces the film leisurely so that we linger on faces and expressions. He captures imtimacy-between husband and wife,parent and child,and friends-with a documentarian's skill,so we feel as if we are privy to secrets,to sides of a black self that are not often displayed in cinema. And these sides are not often displayed. So much film that is about African-Americans is filtered through both a horrible real life history and an insidiously racist film industry that what is produced more often than not is ciphers with attitude who swagger,make wisecracks,
and gun blast(or murder)through one contrived scene after another(and the industry stills act this way even today). At a running time of 83 minutes in length,Burnett shows the pace of the film,peels back layers,creates settings that are purposefully banal,and illuminates the spirit behind the flesh and bone, He doesn't try to dazzle you or overwhelm the viewer,but he gives you a chance to question all that you have seen or heard about blackness and the African-American experience that forces you to see and hear a new perspective on this in a whole new light.
November 28, 2011
Mister Caple

Super Reviewer

Killer of Sheep is raw but quite beautiful. Reminiscent of the French New wave, it reminded me of The 400 Blows, particularly during the scenes of the kids messing around near the train tracks. I've heard loads of speculative ideas about the sub-text, my favourite one being that the Black man skinning the White sheep represents race revenge and technically makes it a revenge flick. I've also heard the idea that the title is a metaphor and that the poor black man is the sheep. All nonsense. The magic of this film is its linear narrative, it weaves in an out peoples life's without a story but in doing so tells thousands of storeys. Rarely has realism been better realised, it's handheld, black and white finish is perfect and shouldn't be passed off as amateur just because it was a student film. Charles Burnett is rightly regarded as a master film-maker of his generation, American cinema at its best! It's a shame the detail here on flixster are not very accurate, is this a film database or a just a DVD database?!
August 12, 2010

Super Reviewer

If you're looking for a plot with a beginning, a middle and an end, or characters that 'arc' and 'evolve' then you're better off renting Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings than Charles Burnett's artistically disjointed Killer of Sheep. It plays like a student film because that's exactly what it is. (Burnett submitted it as his master's thesis while attending the School of Film at UCLA.) This 70's depiction of life in the black ghetto of Watts is surprisingly reminiscent of earlier French new-wave films while still being unquestionably American in content. Its easy to see how Burnett's honest style later influenced black film makers like Spike Lee and John Singleton
March 28, 2009
Randy Tippy

Super Reviewer

This movie is the exact opposite of that bullshit excuse of a movie called The Fist Foot Way. Plus, that movie had more money to work with and still couldn't touch what they did with this film. (By the way, I found out FFW was shot on film which makes it even more depressing). Burnett puts together some beautiful vignettes here. Sure, there is some acting that is suspect, but none of the non-professionals are annoying, in fact, one of the kids gives one of the most natural performances I have seen in a long time. This is a film that represents what independent film should be about. Not the Sundance, IFC channel, my father is a transexual and fighting in the war in Iraq which he totally disagrees with type indie. This is a film made for $10,000 and stands up against shit that was made for a hundred times more.
December 6, 2008

Super Reviewer

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