Last year we got a new genre of filmmaking called Menthol Noir in the form of Drive. This year, it is Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly. If you’re in for a crackerjack violent bit of filmmaking with some of the best dialogue of the year, it’s time for you to head over to the multiplex.
An adaptation of George Higgins' 1974 book Cogan's Trade, Killing Them Softly is a raw, brutal crime dramedy set in a post Obama financially challenged Boston. Brad Pitt (who actually arrives much later in the film) stars as Cogan, a slick freelance hitman, draped in oily black, and is as nihilistic as he is professional. Cogan is summoned by a shady mobster (Richard Jenkins) to ‘take care’ of two small time crooks who dared to upset the criminal syndicate of the town by robbing a mafia poker game at gunpoint. The plot is simple but Dominik packs in a shotgun blast of detailing, with a series of truly amazing spitfire set pieces.
Killing them Softly is not exactly subtle. Nearly every single character oozes sarcasm and nonchalant disdain for the Obama administration. The opening shot has audio recordings of the 2009 financial crisis, juxtaposed with stark, destitute, unforgiving urban locales. In fact the film itself is quite misanthropic and to an extent hates the paying audiences as well, but does it with a hell of a lot of sardonic suaveness. This is not Casino or Sopranos, this is a world where hitmen have to kill people for reduced fees because of the economic downturn. One character viciously mouths ‘America is not a country, it’s a business, so pay me my fucking money’.
The film is extremely dialogue heavy but it’s not all preachy, and Dominik settles for a decidedly tongue in cheek tone for the most part. The best scene involves two people trying to set a car on fire which ends in a hilarious mess. The top notch cast of Pitt, Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ben Mendelsohn, Sam Shepherd are only matched by the stunning visual and aural aesthetics. Scott McNairy (from the indie hit Monsters) is perfectly emancipated, an embodiment of the small time crook who knows he screwed up and is running out of time and chances. Ray Liotta is excellent in the polar opposite of his role in Goodfellas. Pitt’s character is classic, and one hopes he gets to do more films with Dominik in the future. It’s also ballsy of Pitt to take on this sort of role in a small film, instead of just doing a commercial romcom or a Michael Bay movie and count his Dineros.
Greg Fraser’s camerawork is mindblowing to say the least – one slow motion car shootout plays out like a murderous ballet and it’s hard to keep one’s lower jaw affixed to its upper counterpart. Another standout sequence features a POV shot of a character coming in and out of a drug induced haze. It’s not an action film, but the little bits of violence are stunning enough to make you squirm in your seat. And it’s nasty as hell, but with a certain freewheeling charm.
(First published in MiD Day)