Take that America! Andrew Dominik’s brilliant mob crime drama, Killing Them Softly, has been released this side of the water two months before American audiences will get to see it so as to avoid clashing with Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar baiting flick, The Master.
It makes a welcome change from films, DVDs and television programmes being released in the USA before plodding over here six months later. But we shouldn’t stop now. We should keep hitting the Yanks with a taste of their own medicine while we have the momentum; let’s send them an endless stream of loud, obnoxious tourists, invade their music charts with bland, sterile pop and if they ever want to travel here we’ll make them fill out a dozen forms before greeting them at Dublin Airport with an over-zealous and unsmiling security guard who’ll snap on a pair of latex gloves as they approach arrivals..
But back to the film. A group of petty criminals, who aren’t quite as smart as they think they are, take it upon themselves to rob a high stakes poker game frequented and run by members of the local mafia. As you may have guessed, this does not work out for them. In terms of stupid ideas, stealing from the mafia is right up there with pissing on an electric fence, trying to eat your own head or drunkenly agreeing to only screw a Thai prostitute from behind and in the dark. Brad Pitt’s Jackie Cogan is called in to find out who was responsible and bring them to the authorities (or shoot them in the head, I can’t remember which.)
Set in 2008 against the backdrop of a deepening global financial crisis and the Obama/McCain presidential election, Killing Them Softly is much more than your average mobster shoot-em-up. The link to the presidential election at first seemed as if the filmmakers were trying to make some sort of clumsy, populous point about politicians and capitalism - However, Pitt ties it all together at the end with a single sentence in what is surely one of the best finishing lines in a film from the past 10 years. The people he’s hired to hunt are not bad guys, just products of their environment. Cogan knows this and takes no pleasure in his job. “I like to kill them softly,” he explains. Indeed the scenes where he does the business are shot in a softer, calmer manner than the grainy parts depicting the every day lives of his unfortunate victims. They sit in run down slums, pumping black sludge into their veins while a harsh light shines in through the smokey air that looks so dry it could crack and sharp, violent noises attack the senses. Winding up on the business end of Cogan’s barrel almost seems the preferable option.
Make no mistake about it, this is rough, brutal film making but Killing Them Softly is also darkly hilarious.It has a streak of pitch black humour a mile wide running through it and because it’s set alongside such hopeless scenes of human misery it’s all the funnier.
Brilliantly written, wonderfully made and superbly acted. Hmm, perhaps the Yanks aren’t all bad.
Words: Martin Hearty