Grimy, intense, political and brutal – Killing Them Softly is far more than mob politics and hit jobs. Review after the jump.
Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is an enforcer, a clean-up guy. He is the guy you call to sort things out when they need sorting. Jackie is called in after an illegal card game run by the mob is robbed by a couple of men. These men (played by Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) are desperate and rather unintelligent low-level mobsters who didn’t really think things through – Blinded by the money and the power they perceive that it gives them, they are careless and don’t do a good job of lying low. Based on the 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, Killing The Softly is not only a gritty tale of mob politics, but it’s also an intelligent commentary on the state of politics and the economy in America. The mob and the government are far more alike than either of them would like to admit.
The parallels between the mob world and the government are strong, and it’s something director Andrew Dominik clearly wants to highlight. Throughout the film (set during the financial crisis, before President Obama was elected), we hear (and see on TVs) portions of speeches lamenting the state of the economy, and how it ended up in such a dire situation. Politicians promising change, preaching unity, dismissing inequality. The mobsters in this film find themselves in a similar state as the economy – they have screwed each other over and have failed at the most simple of tasks. They may call themselves a family, but really they only care about themselves. Morals and community ties mean nothing at the end of the day, the pursuit of money is relentless and uncompromising – if you can’t hack it, you’ll end up at the bottom of the pile, or you won’t make it at all. Sounds a bit like politics, and sometimes life in general doesn’t it? What a grim picture it paints of our society.
The direction is strong in this film, and it has a very slick and stylised feel about it. The violence in particular is filmed in a very cinematic/slow-motion style – but this doesn’t take away from how horrific it is. There is one particular scene which had me covering my eyes – it was almost too much for me. The performances are solid across the board, and I couldn’t help but compare Matthew McConaughey’s performance in Killer Joe with Pitt’s in this film. They both play charming killers who had the ability to turn icy cold at a moments notice. While the film clocks in at only 97 minutes (how refreshing), I did feel it could have lost or shortened a few of the dialogue-intensive scenes. I also believe a variation in the delivery of the politics/economics subtext would have made the message feel less repetitive – i.e perhaps showing interviews, or a talk-show, or some other medium of discussion, and not a speech.
A final note on the music – while it was too obvious at times (a song about drug taking while a character was taking drugs), I really liked the song choices here. They added great atmosphere, and still linger in my head now. I actually found this review quite hard to write, as even as I was writing it, my feelings were changing. The further removed I get from the film, the more I am appreciating it. Ultimately, this is a great film which delivers a timely message in a stylised and entertaining way. It’s a film which I feel will benefit greatly from a re-watch.
Director: Andrew Dominik
Writer(s): Andrew Dominik (screenplay), George V. Higgins (novel)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Scoot McNairy, James Gandolfini
Runtime: 97 minutes
Release date(s): Australia & New Zealand: October 11 2012; USA: November 30 2012