dir: Andrew Dominik, 2012
It’s wild to know 2012 was already 3 years ago. That’s one of the things I was clocking in my head as I sat down to check out Killing Them Softly. I think part of that is compounded by the fact that the film itself is set on the eve of the 2008 elections. (Let’s do the timewarp agaiiiiin)
The political and economic subtext is less sub, and more text here. Director Andrew Dominik makes it explicitly known that the economy is bad right now and everyone is hurting, even the mobsters. His usage of radios, tv’s and non-diegetic sound gets grating halfway through the film; at some point you just throw your hands up and say “okay dude, I get it.”
However, when Dominik isn’t applying a rhetorical hammer on the viewer, he exhibits some fun and interesting visual styles. Before we get into that though: mobster hitman Jack (Brad Pitt) is hunting down the men behind the robbery of a local high-stakes card game. Bad things become worse as bullets fly and everyone gets desperate.
Super sidenote here too: I really thought the setting was Pennsylvania/Philly, but apparently this is supposed to be in an unnamed city outside or near Boston. Go figure.
Killing is a slick, bleak film. The pallet here is rarely warm; everything is cast in dire browns, blues, blacks, greens, and varying greys. It fits well with the noir vibe the film evokes. It also enforces the idea of desperation and economic collapse (that the film oh so not gently slams on you at every turn).
Dominik does however infuse some life into this through a few dope visual tricks. One of which is the subversion of narration through an unreliable narrator’s POV. All of which happens during Frankie and Russell’s conversation at Frankie’s place. After shooting up some heroine, Dominik uses fades, distorted audio, cuts, and more to mimic Russell’s sleepy high. It’s a great moment if you’re a film geek.
On the other hand, Dominik does offer a bit more conventional slow-mo scene during Markie Trattman’s assassination. He does add some flair and style to it however by sequencing the different shots into a macabre ballet. This creates a certain graceful beauty to Markie’s death as he flails and careens from the bullets and the subsequent ramming by cars in the intersection.
At this point I’d like to get back to this idea of collapse because it’s the strongest thematic element of Killing. In the midst of the gritty, often racist and misogynist dealings of these men, there’s a lot of frailty and brokenness. I’m not saying this as a pass. Rather, it’s a stroke of poetic justice underpinning their gains and losses. One of the best examples of this is “New York Mickie” (the late great James Gandolfini). In a rambling retrospective with Jack, Mickie struggles to dissect his emotions about a sex worker named Sunny in Florida. Gandolfini’s acting here is on point as he captures the guarded and rapidly deteriorating state of this man.
Mickie understands he’s in the shitter: possibly facing a bid on a shotgun that, as he jokes, he bought for killing geese and not men.Yet, in the midst of losing himself, he fixates on a single point of happiness with Sunny. And even then, his patriarchal character refuses to admit that he loves her. Instead he deflects his anger onto her and the men she sleeps with that aren’t him, even lashing out at Jack. It’s in these moments that Mickie reveals himself: for all his bravado and experience, he’s a simple and sad man with an ego that is increasingly fragile.
This fragility is shared by every character in Killing, even the stalwart Jack. It informs the process of collapse on a personal and narrative level, and helps provide depth for each individual in varying ways.
In all, Killing is a dark and violent look back on a world of desperation and uncertainty. The irony of this lies in the fact that the current global climate feels much the same. Seeing this film in 2014 then is harrowing: for even if the America we’re seeing is fictionalized, it’s one that is a hop, skip and a jump from our current reality.
The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope