[Review] Killing Them Softly

Courtesy of the Weinstein Company
Sometimes, I don't understand humans at all. For the past ten years or so, I've averaged about a film a week in my local cinetorium, and in all that time, I can't remember any instance of somebody walking out during the show. I'm not saying it didn't happen, but I'm saying I didn't notice. And even if it never happened, that still seems like a reasonable statistic to me. Pay the ticket, as Hunter S. Thompson less literally once said, take the ride. So, it incited in me a previously untapped kind of depressed rage when, in the middle of Killing Them Softly, six people, not together as a group, but independently and over the course of about ten minutes, all got up and left. These weren't bathroom breaks or concession trips, these were departures. These were leaving in the middle of a film, that it made me angry.

Maybe this is how the religious feel, when others slight their gods. Because there is no reason that someone I don't know getting up in the middle of a picture and leaving of their own accord should anger me so. But it did. It almost felt personal, like they were insulting me by insulting the film. I've only once walked out of a film, and that was because there was a technical fault which caused no sound. That's not what happened here. These people came to the theatre, chose this film, paid their money, and sat through half, before getting up and walking out. Now, I don't know these people, maybe they had places to go, in which case why were you in a theatre to begin with? Maybe they're samplers, the sort who drift through life trying things out but never committing. Or maybe it was just, after forty some odd minutes, they realised this wasn't the film they were expecting and decided to leave.

And I cannot for the life of me fathom that sort of decision making process. It completely escapes me. Alien. I have sat through terrible films. Boring films. Films that were marketed wrong and turned out to be absolute drudge. But I paid my money, and I made my bed, as it were. It's different if you're at home, watching a rubbish DVD or Sunday afternoon rerun. You can turn those off, find something new. But going to and later walking out of a theatre, it just seems rude to me. Live with your regret, and next time make a more informed decision.

I, for one stayed, and am pretty certain I enjoyed Killing Them Softly. Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that also stayed through the entire film.

From what I understand, this is the sort film Andrew Dominik wanted to make in 2006 with The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, and which the studio wrestled with him for nearly a year in the editing process. Story goes, Dominik and Brad Pitt wanted to make a quiet, introspective film about the condition of man. The studio wanted an action movie. The end result was something in the middle. Despite a couple of action-like moments, and the occasional bout of dark humour, this is most certainly a quiet film. Literally and figuratively.

Killing Them Softly, in the context of the film, is an ironic title. Pitt's assassin explains his method of killing from a distance to limit the emotions involved with murder. Yet, that's all this movie is. It's emotions, and getting involved. Its an hour and a half of conversations between desperate and hardened people. It exists somewhere between the Tarentino and Coen Bros. schools of film making, with the brief moments of extreme style broken up by long stretches of people being people, and reacting in the way a person would to extraordinary things. Or not, depending on their points of view. And that is the real meat of the film, the point of view. A simple story, orbited by an arrangement of characters, each with a complex and unique point of view. For all the times I've said that a film needs more character, this one has it to spare.

And it does bog itself down from time to time. James Gandolfini's story is more of a vignette in the centre of the film, a distraction from the actual plot. It is isolated and doesn't hold much sway over the course of events, and could be lifted from the film entirely and not change anything but the run time. And any sort of deeper message, such as the possibility that the older man's present might reflect Pitt's future is lost in a litany of vulgarity and loathing, and you sense that Pitt's character is smarter then that. You don't know for sure because, despite spending a lot of time with these characters, learning their philosophies and their ambitions, you never really get to know them. We learn of them as humans, in a sociological, almost clinical sort of way, rather then as people. We know them by aliases or nick names, not as complete people. And those we do know of completely, those that show more of themselves, end up dead.

The rest of the film feels like a roulette wheel of style and design, never settling on one technique. The film opens with a cacophony of noise, only to give way to a constant, tense silence, and features for my money the loudest gun shot on film. The film has one of the more absurd and unpredictable soundtracks I've heard in some time, ranging from Johnny Cash's The Man Comes Around, to fifties Doo-wop and sixties bubblegum, and none of it ever feels forced or out of place. The occasionally odd camera angles and bullet time do feel forced though, considering the rest of the film is shot in closeups, which are used to the greatest effect when showing the deterioration of the characters through their appearance. Those in control always look good, if not nice, and those losing control fall apart. The visual elements in the film feel real, and Ben Mendelsohn's character especially exudes his greasiness through the screen and onto your palms.

The film wants to have a message, but I don't know if it really ever gets there. It tries too hard to drive it home, liberally using footage of George W. Bush and the 2008 US election campaign to drive home the idea of investment, of money, and of repercussion. It is only in the film's final moments that Pitt's character introduces the thesis of the film, and while characters had danced around it for the entire length, Dominik never seemed content to settle on a definitive statement until the end, as if it were some big twist. He seemed far more interested in the Elmore Leonard-style minutia of the dialogue then getting obvious with his point.

The end result is a moment-in-time sort of film that never lingers on convention. We drop in on these characters in the middle of their day, and leave them just as suddenly, without the sort of conclusion that "film" usually demand. We leave the living as they are, and what ultimately happens to them is inconsequential. In that respect, it is a bold film, one that is libel to get big applause from those that feel being contrary deserves immediate acclaim. For it's various shortcomings, you do ultimately walk away from it having enjoyed. Unless you don't, in which case you might be prone to walk away from it in the middle of the film.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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