A modern-day setting that evokes so much of the past, ‘Killing Them Softly’, is a strange one. It’s set in 2008, right in the middle of economic meltdown’s that affected the world over, and at the changeover of who controlled America, from George W. Bush over to new man Barack Obama. This is all concurrent to our main focus, a story of criminals, chased down by contract killers, both as pathetic as the other. It’s a good film, don’t get me wrong, it is short, has enough visceral scenes to keep me going, but at times drags and the ‘talky’ scenes between star Brad Pitt and various members of the cast are often incomprehensible.
To the beginning though, and we don’t actually see Pitt till a good 15-20 minutes into the film, a daring choice for a film so strongly advertising its money-spinning star. Instead we’re left with relative ‘unknown-to-the-casual-viewer’ actors, Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy, who I recognised from the indie-Brit flick ‘Monsters’. Both were pretty brilliant and disgusting in equal measure, real, gritty scumbags who you genuinely hate and have no redeeming features, bar their humour to appeal. We see them attempt to pull off THE most tense heist of a local sleezy criminal’s poker game. It’s sweaty, it’s long, it’s quiet, certainly not ‘Ocean’s Eleven’, that’s for sure! Ray Liotta is the no. 1 scumbag, the leader of said poker game, who’s previously robbed his own game, Richard Jenkins as a sort of nominal cop, although this is never confirmed, all we know is he is in league with Pitt, he’s the man who brings him in to, ideally, sort the mess. And then the big daddy, James Gandolofini, is winged in, as a fatter, older, ‘wiser’ version of Pitt’s contract killer. All three, Liotta, Jenkins and Gandolfini, must muster around 15 minutes of screentime each, again another risky move by the film’s director, given their established film careers, instead turning to Mendelsohn and McNairy to lead the way, at least initially.
Director Andrew Dominik is no ordinary director though. 5 years after his critically acclaimed, ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’, also starring Pitt, he’s returned with such a gritty, tough film to watch, not only for its somewhat violent, graphic scenes (it’s certainly no torture-porn grotesque show though, just a couple of scenes), but that is pretty majestic in full flight. For example, the slow-mo killing scene is one of the best I have seen in the cinema this year, each individual shard of glass is stunning to watch as our victim is pummelled (no spoilers!). Another director may have found it a struggle to incorporate the ramblings of Messrs Bush and Obama, but they are there, constantly noticeable and give the film a nice little piece of context, that eventually comes to fruition in the ending. The ending, without giving too much away, is perfect. It’s a great monologue by a certain character, and the film ends abruptly after. All killer, no filler.
Embarrassingly enough, the trailer/film have directed me towards the excellent tune of ‘When The Man Comes Around’ by Johnny Cash, and I am all the more grateful for it. The film has a great soundtrack, one that along with the scenery, and characters give off 70’s/80’s vibes, rather than the crippling recent years that it truly encompasses. Rain, dark skies and bleak settings create a real dank feeling, that leaves the viewer never feeling sympathy for such petty individuals, but almost an understanding as to how they can commit such atrocious acts, given the relative poverty they inhabit.
For what its worth, McNairy and Mendelsohn unexpectedly steal the show. They are disgusting creatures, who treat women like the scum growing on their toenails, never seem to know quite where they are going next, what they are doing, but they get by-just. Still, both actors turn in performances that far exceed their relative youth and inexperience. I think it says something that you don’t really care for not seeing Brad Pitt immediately in the first frames of the film, it’s brave as I said previously, but Dominik makes it work. The same could be said about the near-on cameo roles of Gandolfini, Liotta and Jenkins. Of the trio, I thought Liotta was the best, a superb pussycat of a man. The scene in which he is violently ‘taken for a ride’, is another of pure uncomfort. His wailing and vomiting only add to his total lack of command and authority. Gandolfini is okay, I felt he could’ve stepped it up a notch, but given the lack of time he was there for, it’s not that much of an issue, whereas Jenkins was a nice little cohort for Pitt, but nothing more.
I did like ‘Killing Them Softly’, it was enjoyable and had its moments. Its faults mainly revolve around the Bane-like issues of sound, when the low, mumbled gruff voices were deep in conversation with one another, it was difficult to know what the hell was going on! That being said, the story is a strong tale, that is the first to really comment on the struggles of modern-day, economic hell America, and once again, THAT last line, is pure genius.