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Friday, April 5, 2013

"Killing Them Softly", capitalism or death

Killing Them Softly

Yeah, I know, the title of the post is pretty bizarre for what it looks like another neo-noir thriller. Noir thrillers are not odd, they usually use (overuse I dare to say) some very determined and classical pattern with slight or more radical ("state-of-the-art", "cool" are also words that come to my mind) visual variations, putting style ahead of substance. But "Kiling Them Softly" is different. Is the first "capitalist thriller" I have ever seen. You must be thinking, what the hell is a capitalist thriller? Let me try to explain myself.

"Killing Them Softly" is, on the surface, a pure thriller dealing with the criminal world. An using a recurrent topic/premise: what in the mafia jargon is called a "contract".  Jackie Cogan is an enforcer recruited to solve a situation (meaning killing the responsible) created by three guys who robbed at a mob protected card game. But the unsurprising, common ground of the premise quickly reveals much more.

It is obvious, since almost the beginning the movie is not really interested on the robbers. They are amateurs and pretty dumb (one of them just a scum), therefore fated to a dramatic end. But director Andrew Dominik adapting George V.Higgins' novel "Cogan's Trade", want to talk about something much more bigger than a crazy robbery. They use that scenario as a metaphor of capitalism, with the United States as the evident background. Well, maybe I should rephrase this paragraph, maybe this is about a crazy robbery after all. The biggest, most despicable and crazy robbery mankind is suffering.

What Jackie Cogan is paid to do is not eliminating three stupid guys, but restore the collapsed local criminal economy. Cogan and the unnamed driver with whom he has the arrangements discuss about murders, but mostly about economy (every dollar counts, more in this choking economic crisis context) and the "public image" that has to be rebuilt. Their capitalist structure, the status quo, has to be preserved by all means. Does it sound familiar to you? It does.

In that context, violence is just a tool, another mean to reach the desired end. Cogan, portrayed with a disarming naturalness by Brad Pitt, could be a gangster, but also the perfect public relations. The film has some violent  scenes, not many, but is mostly a movie about conversations. Criminals wearing suits and ties talking about the needed steps to be taken. Did I hear bankers and politicians? The driver, played by the always perfect Richard Jenkins is an accountant, that's for sure, and you'll see Obama too many times on the screen to just think is a coincidence. Remember than words can also be weapons.

Unfortunately, "Killing Them Softly" somewhat fails as a movie. It has a peculiar, off-beat pace that harms its dynamism. Without it, some scenes seem to be there to make fun, a peculiar, deadpan humour that is, but they don't mix that well as a whole. And to my understanding, director Andrew Dominik makes terrible mistakes of presenting several relevant elements in its narration to abandon them later on. Mickey's character (another great performance by James Gandolfini) and Dillon's ghostly role are the two most blatant examples. It was just a (bad) editing choice? It might be the first film in ages in which I have the feeling the movie is too short... for what it wants to say.

Capitalism or death. But let's try your murder to be as delicate as possible.... Damn it again, doesn't sound familiar to you? Failed movie, but brave, risky, smart, well acted and thought-provoking.

SCORE: 6,5/10

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