Friday, November 30, 2012


Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly Does America's capitalism operate like a ruthless mafia? Or is it the other way around, a violent gangster underworld goes by the same principle as the Wall Street? Either way, it doesn't make any difference. That's a not-so-subtle point writer/director Andrew Dominik is trying to make in his gripping, clever, and often hilarious gangster film "Killing Them Softly" (USA 2012 | 97 min.). The film is based on George V. Higgins's 1974 crime novel "Cogan's Trade." However, in order to illustrate that mafia vs. Wall Street point, the film alters its time to the 2008's presidential campaign season, when the American financial world is about to meltdown.

By the end of 2008, the economy slips into a devastating recession. Rhetoric speeches by presidential candidates Obama and McCain are filled airways, as well as a mob-run card game room operated by a gangster Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). That card game joint becomes a target for a heist planned by a small time crook Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola). Johnny hires a low life Frankie (Scoot McNairy) for the gig, and Frankie drags his junkie Aussie buddy Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) along.

Of course, the mob boss must not give a free pass for such glitch to his business. The guilty party must pay, and the tarnished reputation must be restored. Through a soft spoken middle-manager (Richard Jenkins), professional assassin Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is brought in to take care of the mess.

Jackie holds a high standard about his executions. He despises unnecessary cruelty imposed on his victims—he likes to kill them softly, from a distance. Therefore, he brings in his alcoholic associate Mickey (James Gandolfini) to do the dirty job. When Mickey exhibits incompetency toward Jackie's standard, Jackie takes on the duty himself.

Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini in Killing Them Softly

Director Andrew Dominik is brilliant in creating intense moments after moments throughout the film, even when no gunshot is fired. However, when a bullet indeed flies out of a gun, he makes it looked like the most glory motion you could witness, in slow motion, with soothing music and plenty blood. The uniformly strong performance by every single actor makes the story even more engaging.

It's quite evident that Andrew Dominik loves these complex and colorful mob characters as much as he loves the sleek and funny dialogue by George V. Higgins. Quotable amusing lines constantly come out the mouths of these well developed characters, no matter where they are, how urgent the situation is, or if they are killing somebody at the moment. In fact, as if Andrew Dominik loves the chatty moments too much to cut them short, the talking interferes the pace of the film sometimes. Similarly, despite how fascinating the character Mickey is, the film would have been more condense and focused without him.

It seems a little odd when the film repeatedly suggests that the mob world is simply a metaphor to the American's financial institution, or vice versa. Not without merit, the film certainly offers a provocative perspective to look at America's financial system on how the daily business is conducted. But it doesn't make any effort to establish the similarity between the two worlds. As a result, the weak link between these two systems fades away as quickly as Obama's speech in the background.

However, it does pave the foundation for Jackie to deliver a punch line in responding to Obama's speech on TV:

"I am living in America, and in America you're on your own. America's not a country, it's a business. Now pay me my fucking money."

That certainly sounds familiar when Wall Street was bailed out by the tax payers in 2008, only without a single gunshot. Jackie nails it pretty well.

"Killing Them Softly," a Weinstein Company release, opens on Friday, November 30, 2012 at Bay Area theaters.

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