Killing Them Softly Review: It’s Good To See You Again Mr. Pitt
Last year Brad Pitt was nominated for best actor at the Oscars for Moneyball in which he threw chairs and fully convinced me he is in fact a young Robert Redford in the flesh. All joking aside his performance was everything it needed to be; convincing, heartfelt and just enough yin to Jonah Hills yang. Was it Oscar worthy? Not really. However, this year Pitt shines as Jackie Cogan in Killing Them Softly so much so I’d say the Academy was a bit premature with their nomination.
The New Zealand-born director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) is back with his pal Pitt with a crime drama centered on Jackie Cogan who acts as the enforcer in a poverty-ridden neighborhood. It’s the kind of place where shots are fired and not a single person flinches or questions their next step. And I say this because at some point in the movie this happens and it’s one of the most unnerving things I’ve seen in a while. It’s also the kind of neighborhood that has an economy striving off of Mob run underground poker games which three bumbling idiots decide are a great target for starting their new lives of slicked back hair and drugs. The film wastes no time setting up the plot, showing the problem and offering a solution (Jackie Cogan) all of which works in its favor. I’ve read that the first cut of the film was over two and half hours long and while I’d love to see that cut (here’s hoping for a directors cut) Dominik played perfectly the get in and get out approach to Killing Them Softly.
With the poker heist complete a nameless driver working on behalf of the ominous “they” calls in Cogan to rid the neighborhood of the pantyhose-wearing thieves. By the end of the film you should really be completely turned off by the character Cogan. He is brutal, kills at the drop of a hat and even when he tries to express a glimmer of remorse for what he does you have doubts. But, it’s the way that Pitt smokes his cigarettes, moves his hands and spits his little quips that make him likeable.
It’s the same feeling that Daniel Day Lewis gives you in There Will Be Blood, you know you should hate the guy but it’s not possible. Even though Cogan is essentially a murderer he had standards. No, he will not zip up a hookers dress if it wasn’t his hooker for the night. And you will never catch him busting the balls of a server that can’t keep up with the lush in front of him. What you will get with Cogan are clean and carefully planned kills. As he says, he likes to kill them softly. One of the longer death scenes in the film illustrates exactly this thanks to the stylish direction of Dominik. It’s an absolutely horrid death but beautifully shot with a calm and soft song to cap it off. What could have been done in thirty seconds is drawn out and detailed to make the impact hit you like a brick wall but in a picturesque way.
Even more memorable is a scene in which the two lug nuts, Frankie and Russell are reveling in their success over smokes and some shootin up. Russell shares some incredibly pertinent information while high that ultimately upsets Frankie. This whole scene happens through the eyes of Russell who is working on no sleep and is barely present. Dominik films it so you actually feel like you’re behind his eyes, with light cutting in and out while swaying side to side. It’s little touches like this that push the film past your typical crime drama that it easily could have been. There is a stamp of unique style that just can’t be overlooked. Attaching the camera to a car door to get an extra shake and introducing the character of Cogan by filming his feet for an extended period of time also come to mind. Dominik’s use of lens flare makes you wish that he’d give J.J. Abrams a ring to let him know what’s up.
With all that being said the kicker to it all has to be the backdrop, which Killing Them Softly utilizes perfectly. The film takes place during the campaign of Obama and McCain back in 2008. Throughout the runtime we are very purposely shown countless speeches and new pieces discussing the economic crisis, who will win and what that will mean for our country. Within the first few minutes we are shown billboards of each man next to each other that are comically big and brash. It’s clear this is intentional but after a while I began thinking that if it went on the entire runtime it would be one of the detriments of the film. It just seemed too in your face and satirical on a level that didn’t work. But then you get the last five minutes of the film. I won’t spoil exactly what happens but let’s just say it’s pretty awesome.
If you’ve seen Looper you will surely remember the scene where Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character requests of Bruce Willis to discuss with him the workings of time travel. In a very matter of fact fashion Willis flat out says no, that shit doesn’t matter and if we did talk about it we’d be here all day. Everybody ran with this and it’s pretty obvious that filmmaker Rian Johnson interjected the line as a way to cover his ass for not ever explaining how time travel does work within the world he built for Looper. Well, with the last lines of Killing Them Softly you get the same effect. All of the discussion of politics and the economic crisis that was used as the backdrop for the film ultimately doesn’t mean shit. So while you were waiting for some grand message about poverty and America working as one instead you get a simple message that doesn’t need any explaining. Pitt delivers it so well that when the screen goes black I could help but remain grining.
While politicians speak about poverty and how the economic crisis has affected people, Killing Them Softly shows you in a less than sugar-coated manner. Serving as a reminder to us all that don’t live in those types of neighborhoods that sometimes getting by means doing some bad things. It’s easy to get caught up in words but it’s hard to remember that oftentimes words don’t equal action.
Killing Them Softly requires a specific audience member, particularly one that isn’t disturbed by violence. There is a specific beating that brought back memories of experiencing the elevator scene in Drive for the first time. I can’t say everyone will love it but if you’ve been pining for a performance from Brad Pitt that reminds you of his early years and why you love him this is a must see. And I mean really, aren’t you even a little bit interested in the role that caused him to start sporting the long hair and goatee? Let me tell you, it was well worth it.