Set in the recently hurricane ravaged state of New Orleans during the presidential election race of 2008, what initially seems like a successful heist carried out by two amateurish low level gangsters turns into a story of brutal and honour restoring revenge. Calling in the services of Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to track down the culprits and ultimately dispose of them is at the forefront of the story but that’s not all there is to Killing Them Softly. There’s also an underlying message which tells us that against all the political ideologies and values, people are not equal and living and contributing to one happy community is an unattainable pretence.
Brad Pitt performs admirably as the calm, hushed tone assassin. His demeanour gives the instant impression of intimidation and a no mercy mentality, without needing to back it up with glorified violence. Later we watch Cogan dispense of his targets with pure single mindedness and detachment and in a professional and precise manner. Jackie is a mechanical protagonist who will surely be compared with last year’s Driver from the film Drive. Pitt takes a minimalist approach to the role and succeeds on all counts. Though not his best performance, it’s certainly one of his stronger ones.
For all the positives that can be put towards Pitt, for me it was James Gandolifini who stole the show playing a like minded assassin named Mickey. His character’s actual purpose to the film offers very little and in fact, he creates almost another separate story arc within the movie. That being said, the presence he gives on screen and the commanding respect which he draws with his psychotic and uncompromising rigour is very engaging.
The story driving the film is absorbing and the backdrop of New Orleans creates the perfect scene for portraying the notion that in the land of opportunity, there is such large sections of society which seem to have been forgotten about. I found the underlying message a somewhat cynical view and it does at times seem shoved down your throat as there seems to be no media references throughout the picture that don’t include campaign speech or proclamations of optimism and togetherness.
There is of course an argument to had regarding the general principle that too easily the poorer end of society are discarded and left to fend for themselves, but I feel it is equally poignant to argue that it is the kind of criminal mentality and selfishness of the characters in this film which epitomizes why so many people can live in abject poverty and why the distribution of wealth is so uneven.
When it comes to directing, Andrew Dominik continues his excellent work that was showcased in The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. There are a number of violent scenes in the film and one in particular of a prolonged beating is brilliantly shot. Dominik’s sense of brutality and camerawork is closer to what would have been ideal for the most recent Batman franchise and the director impresses with his flare for raw violence. In some ways, it’s similar to what Nicolas Winding Refn did with Drive and it’s incredibly effective.
That being said, I did personally feel slightly uncomfortable with the film’s savagery and brutality, though that is in no way a knock against Dominik or his direction. Make no mistake, this is a stylishly crafted, smart and ambitious film from top to bottom. Mention should also be made to some of the director’s soundtrack choices as well as a couple very clever camera moves that will excite those who catch onto them.
While Killing Them Softly could sit happily in the gangster pigeon hole, its in your face, two fingers up in the air political message regarding the social economic climate and social and economic inequality means that there is more going on than first meets the eye. The film is a blatant metaphor for the current state of the economy. Though that may put some people off, it does nothing to decrease the film’s potential longevity and it could easily be watched again.
The performances are strong, the story engaging and the direction sharp. Simply put, it’s an all around entertaining experience that should have no trouble finding its way onto some “best of 2012” lists.
Killing Them Softly is an angry, politicised, stylishly crafted gangster film that packs enough of a punch to keep your interest.