Cannes 2012: Killing Them Softly
Andrew Dominik’s stylish gangster film is visually impressive if occasionally lacking momentum
Killing Them Softly, Andrew Dominik’s third film following Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, is a bleakly humourous gangster flick with an underlying commentary on modern day moral bankruptcy.
It begins with small time crook Frankie (Scoot McNairy) emerging into the litter-strewn streets of a polluted America. It’s 2008 and Barack Obama’s and John McCain’s faces loom large on billboards amidst their battle for presidency. Frankie and his drug-addled mate Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) agree to do a job for local dry-cleaning criminal ‘Squirrel’ (Vincent Curatola). The hold-up goes to plan but it is not without repercussions, which is where professional hitman Jackie (Brad Pitt) steps in, acting under the auspices of an unnamed businessman (Richard Jenkins).
Something of a variable beast, Killing Them Softly initially impresses with its audacious cinematography (the detailed, slow-motion fight scenes stand out in particular). However most of the film relies on dialogue-heavy sequences that aren’t quite witty or insightful enough to keep up the momentum. And, with such verbose characters and fondness for style it’s hard not to see Killing Them Softly as sitting in the shadow of that other attitude-driven genre piece, Pulp Fiction.
Yet the film’s reference to contemporary politics and the economic downturn gives it a unique and thought-provoking edge - here America’s underworld is presented as operating under the same individualistic ideals as the rest of the country, where it is only those at the very top who don’t get screwed over. And with this idea lingering throughout, Andrew Dominik very much establishes Killing Them Softly as a film of the times.
Killing Them Softly screened at Cannes Film Festival 2012.