Killing Them Softly (2012)

THE SCOOP
Director: Andrew Dominik
Cast: Brad PittRay Liotta, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini
Plot: Jackie Cogan is an enforcer hired to restore order after three dumb guys rob a Mob protected card game, causing the local criminal economy to collapse.

Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Awards: Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes).
Runtime: 97min
Rating: M18 for violence, sexual references, pervasive language, and some drug use.

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IN RETROSPECT

“They cry, they plead, they beg, they piss themselves, they cry for their mothers. It gets embarrassing. I like to kill 'em softly. From a distance.”

As you walk past a new movie poster of a no-nonsense Brad Pitt holding a shotgun with the title ‘Killing Them Softly’ prominently placed above his image, you may be thinking of two things: First, this is gonna be a kickass action movie. Second, America is in a big mess. One of them is correct.

No guessing which one is so, but as far as director Andrew Dominik is concerned, this is no kickass action movie. It is simply a violent crime-thriller with a star name that will not go down as one of the best films of the genre, but it crackles with dialogue that is unforgivingly political.

It is also a slow-burning thriller that comes alive in moments of graphic violence, some of it expected, others not so. The film’s general unpredictability is underscored by a constant feeling of uneasiness. The tone of the film is harsh and there is a strong sense of dread.

Set in a part of America where you will feel safer with a weapon that fires bullets in your possession than not, Killing Them Softly is a kind of an attempt at exploring the issue of organized crime via the mechanics of art cinema. Only that gun control, or the lack of it, seems to be at the back of moviegoers’ minds after the tragic Sandy Hooks shootings, rather than mob violence or artistic cinematic merit.

Dominik, who previously made The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), is unapologetic in his treatment of George V. Higgins’ novel. Mainstream viewers will not enjoy Killing Them Softly because they want to see Pitt kick more butts. I suggest they should wait for the zombie apocalyptic blockbuster World War Z (2013).

Yes, there are lengthy sequences of dialogue (some of which are not related to driving the plot), perhaps an overuse of the slow-motion technique in a key violent scene, and the occasionally irritating running television news commentary that has Bush and Obama’s voice permeating the air. 

Pitt’s performance is unsurprisingly understated. He doesn’t stand out from the crowd, but neither does anyone else in particular, except for a Ray Liotta who epitomizes the film’s mood of uneasiness. He is like in a state of perpetual paranoia, as if the last thirty minutes of Goodfellas (1990) got into his head.

In the words of Betsy Sharkey of L.A. Times, “[Dominik] becomes so intent on hammering home the parallels between economic decay, political disappointments and petty criminals, there is nothing soft, or subtle, about it.” Killing Them Softly is a hard-hitting crime-thriller that states the obvious with regards to American affairs. It is a finely-executed film from Dominik, but some may not like it as it leaves no room for nuances.  

Verdict: A slow-burning crime thriller with cracking dialogue and moments of graphic violence.

GRADE: B (7.5/10 or 3.5 stars)







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