Andrew Dominik’s small scale crime saga, an uncomplicated story of a heist of a poker game and the hit man hired to track down the perpetrators, exists mostly as an exercise in style. But under Dominic’s superlative vision, the formal beauty of its imagery and his stone cold emotional tone is inseparable from the story. And look out for the best supporting performance of the year that won’t get recognized, James Gandolfini as a prostitute-addicted self-destructive hit man.
Killing Them Softly (2012) dir. Andrew Dominik
Starring: Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Richard Jenkins, Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta, Sam Shepard, James Gandolfini
Scoot McNairy opens the film as the point of view into this largely skewed world of crime, not the grandiose presence of Brad Pitt. As a small time hood, he and his sweaty and strung out partner Ben Mendelsohn are hired to pull a heist on a card game of gangster heavies. Knowing that blame would ultimately be given to another mob man (Ray Liotta) who twice held up the same card game, it would seem to be an easier score.
Indeed Liotta gets the blame and he’s pummelled furiously in one of the most disturbing ‘beating’ scenes in recent memory, but the higher ups exemplified by the presence of the white collar politico Richard Jenkins don’t seem to be satisfied. Enter Brad Pitt as Jackie Coogan, a cold but affable hitman who gets the job of unravelling the real culprits. One by one, each of the participants goes down in uncomprising but extreme cinematic fashion at the hands of Coogan’s shotgun.
Despite the constant references to the financial crisis dates the film to 2008-2010, Dominik’s clinical tone and consciously ‘anywhere USA’ locations creates a dreamlike unreality to this whole affair. And while the execution of the dialogue, plotting and casting clearly put us in gangster movie mode, unlike say the New York locales of Goodfellas or the Detroit flavour of Out of Sight, there’s no real world anchor to cling onto.
Thus, we’re in post modern cinema territory, a 90’s throwback which we would have seen in the post-Reservoir Dogs/Pulp Fiction Tarantino decade. The glorification of violence and heroin use, the iconic 70’s music and décor might have seemed hackneyed and overused 15 years ago, but today feels cleverly recycled.
There’s a drone of political-speak from politicians of the day discussing the events of the 2008 financial crisis. It’s a distant thematic undercurrent made overly explicit in the final dialogue scene between Pitt and Jenkins. It certainly punctuates the movie with force before the end credits, but we can’t help but feel it’s slapped on arbitrarily.
It’s a minor blip though, as the addition of Greig Fraser’s rich and textured cinematography, anachronistic wink to 70’s crime cinema and Dominik’s elaborate cinematic flourishes are greater than the sum of its parts.
Killing Them Softly is available on Blu-Ray from Eone Home Entertainment in Canada