Killing Them Softly

UK Release Date 21st September 2012
Director Andrew Dominik
Starring Brad Pitt, Ben Mendolsohn, James Gandolfini
Runtime 97 Minutes
Certificate 18
Reviewer Mark
Reviewed 31st December 2016

“America’s not a country, it’s just a business. Now fucking pay me!” Jackie Cogan’s last line from Andrew Dominik’s gangster tragicomedy, Killing Them Softly is as powerful as anything in modern American cinema. It cuts the film dead, pulling the multi-cultural rug firmly out from under Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential victory speech. Jackie is immune from the bullshit-America will just go on fucking everybody over not matter how well intentioned the new president is. Just watch the white noise opening that stab out Obama’s famous rhetoric; the America he has inherited is a horror show where junkies steal dogs for profit and kill men for, “Recession prices.” 

Up until the end of the film Jackie is an amiable killer whose code informs the title. He likes to kill from a distance, “Kill them softly” so his work never gets too, “Touchy-feely.” When asked by the mob’s middle manager, Driver what he means, Jackie explains, “Emotional, not fun, a lot of fuss. They cry. They plead. They beg. They piss themselves. They call for their mothers. It gets embarrassing.” Killing Them Softly even has the temerity not include Roberta Flack’s song of the same name when Jackie’s victims are iced. Now that is heartless.

“Softly” to Jackie means blowing their brains out through a car window or butchering them with a 12 gauge. The slow-motion destruction of loveable Markie Trottman underlines that Jackie isn’t immune to the perpetual bullshit slung around by low-grade hoodlums. He’s a contradiction, but then again so is America. This is a business that arms friends and enemies alike, pushes democracy abroad but only if the outcome is in their favour. America calls the shots, stacks the odds like in Markie Trottman’s mob protected card game.

Jean-Luc Godard knew that, “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.” All Brad Pitt needs is a leather jacket and a cool pair of shades. His Jackie guides us through the complex roots of how men are whacked by other men on the say so of faceless bureaucrats. In this case three losers who decide to knock over Trottman’s game are marked. Predictably Jackie figures that Markie should, “Go” too to get the illegal games up and running again thus stimulating the mob’s black economy. 

Dominik’s movie is dominated by the financial crisis of 2008, George Bush’s last hurrah trying to save his ever diminishing legacy and Obama’s historic presidential win. It seeps out of television sets and blares out of car radios. It may be a heavy handed message but back then you couldn’t escape it, the news dragged you down like a pair of concrete boots on a banker struggling desperately to keep afloat. Jackie hates the bureaucrats and committees that he sees are ruining America, he wants a strong leader, a dictator to toughen up the country. Listening to Obama’s speech in a bar with Driver he second-guesses his sound bites with disgust, “Next he'll be telling us we're a community.” 

We’re disgusted in terrific company throughout; James Gandolfini as New York Mickey an even more embittered version of Tony Soprano, Scoot McNairy (shrill) and Ben Mendolsohn (sweaty) are the hilarious stick-up kids doomed from the outset, Ray Liotta’s Markie is a loveable, forlorn buffoon, Richard Jenkins as Driver is spruce and efficient. Pitt’s Jackie flits from sociable drinking buddy to ruthless assassin with terrifying ease. He may never have been better and Killing Them Softly could be the best crime film of the millennium. Do we even need to guess who Jackie voted for in the 2016 presidential election, sitting in a bar with a gun and a bottle of Budweiser? Hell, he may have even stretched to a, “Make America Great Again” hat. 

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