Mitchel Waite © 2020

Killing Them Softly [2012]

I’ve got a strange fascination with movie trailers; I get excited in the anticipation of the online release of them to see the tone of the film. With certain summer blockbusters such as The Dark Knight and James Bond, I could watch them over and over again to experience that first time thrill of finally seeing something I’ve read development articles about for over 18 months or so. However, trailers are something in themselves, and purely made to get rear-ends into cinema seats. They’ve been harshly criticised as being the film industry’s false salesman, as well as spoiling the entire plot or funniest moments in some cases, and Killing Them Softly falls victim to this “yes man”. But damn, that Johnny Cash song was made for this film.

My perception going into the screening was that there’ll be a lot of double-crossing, larger than life characters and a big do-or-die climax typical with crime dramas. The film has some forced, choppy editing that could put some viewers off, and Brad Pitt is nowhere to be seen for the first 30 minutes. Cue boredom of some dragged-along girlfriends. Sitting behind me where two loud-mouthed Neanderthals that were clearly expecting Lock, Stock, and who were itching to see the two goons spectacularly failing in setting fire to the car.

Perceptions aside, what I actually saw was a collection of thoroughly satisfying and impressive character studies of American cinema. Killing Them Softly is a social study disguised as a gangster film. Set against the backdrop of Obama’s road to the White House and the aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Katrina, Killing Them Softly paints harshly realistic portrait of what it is to be in America. The film’s closing dialogue sums it up perfectly. America is a business; and businesses get paid. There was a little more (somewhat) heavy-handed politics of presidential speeches from Bush and Obama than perhaps needed, which almost detracted from certain characters dialogue in places, but it ironically sets the scene very well. It was a fitting choice to update the setting of George V Higgins’ 1970s novel, Cogan’s Trade, to which this was adapted from.

Australian director Andrew Dominik is a brilliant filmmaker with his bleached visuals and Tarantino-esque dialogue, teaming up again with Brad Pitt after 2008’s The Assassination Of Jesse James. It sometimes works better when an outsider paints a picture of a country looking in, rather than an insider who will undoubtedly have certain biases and exceptions. Pitt’s and also Scoot McNairy’s performance are brilliant.

The film clearly has some issues with what it tries to be, but that could be the genius of it; it’s what you make of it. 24 hours hours after the screening, the film is still with me in my head. Killing Them Softly is a slow burner and not the gangster epic it’s made out to be, but the reward does pays off in the end.

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