Killing Them Softly

Here is a film that follows genre rules but manages to surprise, taking the audience in an unexpected direction. Is it another formatted thriller? No and the main character isn’t the hitman who pretends to kill his victims softly. This isn’t one of these young wannabe thugs attempting a robbery either. The real central figure is instead the U.S., still chasing the American dream, vying for unity and fighting the recession, on the eve of the first Obama election in 2008.

Andrew Dominik’s vision of America is however different from the one portrayed by the two presidential candidates in campaign. The film is set in New Orleans, as the city is still recovering from  Katrina’s wounds, abandoned houses, filthy empty streets, drugs, alcohol and zombie-like figures offering quite a haunting setting for this story. Unsurprisingly, money is the only thing that matters in this disillusioned world and, despite what the title suggests, this is a ruthless environment: Jackie (Brad Pitt) isn’t killing softly for moral reasons but rather to avoid being embarrassed by his victims’ self-pity.

The entire movie is of course a metaphor: disguised as a genre film, it delivers social commentary while paying homage to classic gangster films; Killing Them Softly could be summarized by one of the characters’ line “America is not a country, it is a business”, everybody here following this capitalistic philosophy. As for the references, they abound, whether it’s in the cast – Ray Liotta (The Goodfellas) and James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) – or in the direction – embracing Quentin Tarantino ‘s signature long sequences and juicy dialogues (more particularly a scene between Cogan and his lawyer).

While Killing Them Softly works as a social-conscious genre piece, it however suffers from being condescending with his audience, the filmmaker hammering its message over and over through every mean available, whether it’s a pretentious cinematography, laborious speeches or a soundtrack featuring the likes of Johnny Cash and The Velvet Underground – did we really need to hear “Heroin” while the protagonists are shooting heroin to get it?

Unlike his previous entry, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Killing Them Softly lacks both subtlety and maturity, the cynical director’s choice to emphasize every idea creating resulting in a quite vulgar piece. This picture should have gained having more confidence in itself and in its premise would it have exhibited the same inner strength as its characters.

Director: Andrew Dominik – Actors: Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy – Running time: 1:37 – Year: 2012 – Country: U.S.A.

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Moland Fengkov

Moland Fengkov

Based in Paris, Moland is a journalist and photographer; He is more particularly responsible for covering the Cannes film festival for Plume Noire, writing movie reviews and taking gorgeous pictures.
Moland Fengkov

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