The first thing you notice about Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly (based on the 1974 novel ‘Cogan’s trade’) is it’s dismal and desolate backdrop. this is T.S Eliots Wasteland; a grey, ashen, god forsaken place. Its post recession America at its ugligest where as Brad Pitt’s character aptly remarks “you’re on your own.”
Enter into the fray two heroin addicted, ex convicted miscreants. you wouldn’t think they could sink any lower but apparently they can as they become pawns in some local crime lord/dry cleaner’s masterplan. Its simple: All they have to do is rob at gunpoint a high value card game (played by other shady, fellon types), steal all the money, take it back to the crime lord/dry cleaner, get their cut and bobs your uncle: they can take enough smack to make the ditch they are living in seem like Beverly Hills.
But of course things don’t go that smoothy and the pair become caught up in a bloody tale of revenge and laissez faire capitalism. Among it’s key players are card game fraudster Trattman, hit man supremo (and cool customer) Brad Pitt, a washed up and pathetic James Gandolfini and an evasive guy called Dillon.
Firstly, I think its important to mention that this film was a lot shorter than I thought it was going to be. This is odd because at times the pace does seem a little slow. There are a few annoying interludes, such as where one of the aforemention miscreants goes on a drug fulled trip and the shot fades in and out of focus to convey his mindstate – clever at first but goes on far too long! However, I have to conceed that even when particular sceens seem to uneccessarily flesh out dialogue, the script picks itself up again and saves us from losing interest in the plot. Secondly, I must point out that what I think this movie essentially reveals is the power of screen presence- that intangible quality that distingishes a good actor from a movie star. When the charismatic players are on set the action seems more alive. Its not that any of the actors we see initially are particularly bad, its more that when Brad Pitt appears, the film just seems to get better. Likewise, Ray Liotta (once again) gives an enigmatic performance for relitively little screen time.
The plot flows well, there are some sub dramas and backstory of certain characters but they only exist to serve the main narrative – we are never too concerned with the details. If this film had been directed by Guy Ritchie (and its the sort of thing he would) it was have been much faster paced and there would have been distinct comidic elements. Theres enough material here to have some laughs but Domink doesn’t go there – this isn’t supposed to be funny.
I’ve read reviews that proclaimed this movie to be a ‘bloodbath’ and I don’t think thats fair. yes, there are some cringingly grotesque moments but its honestly just in the service of realism and whats wrong with that? Its certainly not gratuatous or misplaced. The point of this film is its dirty, grimey and real: bloodshed with a hollywood censory vaneer would undermine it.
The essence of this movie is it’s ironic discourse. The absurd hypocrasy that the American dream is still (or ever was) attainable for everyone regardless of social standing is the theme that permeates. the action throughout is laced with various television screens showing Obama and Bush spout the usual verbatim of hope and unity. It seems completely unfeesable when set against this post apocolyptic void. It brings to mind the desolation and degredation of those left with nothing in the wake of hurricane Katrina. The stark and brutal reality serves as a reminder that gulf in society is massive and you wonder how those at the bottom could ever imagine an egalitarian future. Worth an hour and half of your time.