Reviewed by: Jeremy Landes
|Featuring:||Brad Pitt … Jackie Cogan
Richard Jenkins … Driver
Ray Liotta … Markie Trattman
Ben Mendelsohn … Russell
James Gandolfini … Mickey
Scoot McNairy … Frankie
Vincent Curatola … Johnny Amato
Sam Shepard … Dillon
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|Producer:||Plan B Entertainment
1984 Private Defense Contractors
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The Weinstein Company
“In America you’re on your own”
“Killing Them Softly” tells a short story of crime and its consequences—mainly violent, extremely graphic death by gunshot. In most films about crime, there’s some basically good character, usually a policeman, pursuing criminals. However, in this movie, we primarily see criminals judging others’ crimes and then taking vengeance in cold, calculating ways, valuing money and reputation above all else. The film is set in Boston during America’s 2008 economic crisis, and the soundtrack is full of speeches from George W. Bush and Obama spouting rhetoric about the state of America—much of it hopeful. But the plot of the movie paints a different picture of America—one that we’re supposed to accept as reality: in our culture, it’s kill or be killed, and whoever has the most power gets the cash and glory.
Aside from one character’s ice cream treat that miraculously evaporates and reappears repeatedly each time there’s another cut to the character eating it, director Andrew Dominik has created a film with remarkable power and vivid imagery. You will feel like you’re right there getting savagely beaten by two thugs in the rain along with the character, Markie, played by Ray Liotta. The sounds of flesh and bone being torn and broken are so loud, it’s hard not to feel assaulted yourself. When Brad Pitt’s character, Jackie, is blowing people away, we watch the bullets fly in extreme slow motion, first through a window, then a hand, and finally a head while the song, “Love Letter Straight From Your Heart” plays.
The images are unforgettable—you may want to duck in your seat to avoid splatter on your clothes. I’ve given you two of many examples to describe the violence this movie is obsessed with showing in graphic detail, so you know what to expect. How would I describe the film to a friend who asked? “It’s about rat-like people mercilessly tearing one another to pieces in ugly sections of Boston.” We watch two low-level criminals rip off some other criminals, so an enforcer (Pitt) gets brought in from out of town to kill them and their boss. He encounters very few obstacles in achieving his goal.
In between these violent scenes, the characters drink, smoke, and inject drugs, while talking about sex—including bestiality. Only one woman has a speaking role in the film (its tiny), and she’s a prostitute who says very little except the F-word. Counting F-words and other profanity in the film would be pretty pointless. Suffice it to say, there are very few sentences uttered without lots of profanity.
“Killing Them Softly” references the way Jackie (Pitt) prefers to maintain distance from his victims—he doesn’t want to have a relationship with anyone he needs to kill, because the murder may become messy and complicated. But when his victims are being pushed into cold storage at the morgue, and we see their faces, it’s obvious they have been slaughtered anything but softly. I judged the film “Extremely Offensive,” not because I wanted the violence to seem more palatable, but because the filmmakers treat the murders and beatings as balletic and almost beautiful.
Author George V. Higgins, who authored the book, Cogan’s Trade, that this film is based upon, also wrote The Friends of Eddie Coyle which later became a film starring Robert Mitchum as Eddie. In that film, many people die, too—but when its assassin is shown getting away with murder (as Pitt repeatedly does in Softly), it felt like the world had turned upside down with injustice, because I cared about Mitchum’s character who had lost everything. In contrast, “Killing Them Softly” preaches that upside down (Americans only value winners and money) is the new normal, so it’s best to now live in a style that the apostle Paul summarized with legitimate scorn: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
Violence: Extreme / Profanity: Extreme / Sex/Nudity: Moderate to heavy
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.