2016.69: Killing Them Softly (Film Four HD)
There’s a relentless melancholy running throughout Killing Them Softly that I can only assume comes from director Andrew Dominik, who previously directed the brilliant The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, one of my favourite films of the last twenty years, with which it shares a similar sense of doom and finality. Curiously Killing Them Softly also alludes to the financial crisis spotlighted in The Big Short which I watched a few weeks ago- everybody, it seems, is suffering hard times, even the mobsters and organised crime. There is a running commentary in the background concerning the financial crisis, the fracturing code of conduct of crime bosses being compared to the fracturing code of conduct of financial bosses and the political elite. Juxtaposed with the urban decay of the streets of America (and in this film the locations are as much a character as any actor), there is a feel of the End Of Times, of things falling apart. Things just ain’t what they used to be and never will be.
After two small-time criminals hired by an aggrieved crime boss/crooked business man to hit the popular (albeit illegal) card game of mafia man Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), killer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is called in to track down the two criminals and the rogue boss who hired them, bringing stability and the crime-world’s particular sense of justice into play. Jackie discovers he knows one of the three targets and prefers a distant, businesslike approach compared to anything as personal as ‘offing’ someone you know, so hires in a fellow gun for hire, Mickey (James Gandolfini) to assist him. Unfortunately when Mickey turns up, Jackie realises Mickey is all washed-up and worn out by his own troubles, and gets distracted looking after him before Jackie is forced to finish the contract alone after all. Trattman, though a genuinely innocent victim this time, has previous form regards his card games getting ‘hit’, as he engineered one some years ago to get out of money trouble and later admitted to it when drunk. Lightning having struck twice, Trattman joins Jackies’ hitlist. You’ve got to have standards, after all.
Killing Them Softly is an indie film posing as a Tarantino flick- there’s nothing wrong with that, but the film may suffer from viewers expecting the Goodfellas-cum-Pulp Fiction that the trailer promises and finding out its something else. Maybe that’s a problem the marketing boys have to answer for? The casting of heavyweights like Pitt and Gandolfini probably doesn’t help regards that, but they are very, very good. Pitt brings his screen persona and shadow of past roles to inform the larger-than-life rep that Jackie carries around with him as an infamous enforcer. Gandolfini has a roguish swagger to the troubled soul of end-of-the-line Mickey (Gandolfini is so good he almost steals the movie in this, one of his last roles, a poignant reminder of what we lost with his untimely passing).
Carefully, the film refuses to paint these bad guys as heroes, counter to what the casting would suggest. They are villains, bad people- Pitt has an air of calm authority, of almost respectability, and is rather disarmingly likeable until the film suddenly switches to brutal violence and he reminds us he really isn’t a nice guy at all. It rather makes the violence in the film quite shocking and very effective.
The film is really more a good character piece than mafia thriller, a story of people having very little real control of their lives and seeing what little control they did have slipping through their fingers. It’s a broken world, and the center cannot hold- yes it’s a dark modern film noir and eerily effective as such.I really quite liked it.