Killing Them Softly: A Future Appreciation


WEB3KillingThemSoftlyLast year I saw a number of great films that never got the attention that they deserved. Chief among them was Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, and with the flick coming to Blu-Ray/DVD next week I decided to take this opportunity to re-visit it and talk a little more about why this is going to wind up somewhat of a classic, or something at least close to it, in the next few years. I’ve said the same thing about a few other movies before (notably Drive) and been on the money to one degree or another, so I like to think that I have a decent eye for what films have a bright future ahead of them. Yes, I also said something similar about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but no one’s perfect, right? In any event, I’m pretty confident that within the next decade this Brad Pitt starring flick will be revered in a way that it’s not currently. I spoke highly of it once when I reviewed it last year (found here) and I want to do that again now.

Barack Obama (on TV): …to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one…
Driver: You hear that line? Line’s for you.
Jackie Cogan: Don’t make me laugh. One people. It’s a myth created by Thomas Jefferson.
Driver: Oh, so now you’re going to have a go at Jefferson, huh?
Jackie Cogan: My friend, Thomas Jefferson is an American saint because he wrote the words ‘All men are created equal’, words he clearly didn’t believe since he allowed his own children to live in slavery. He’s a rich white snob who’s sick of paying taxes to the Brits. So, yeah, he writes some lovely words and aroused the rabble and they went and died for those words while he sat back and drank his wine and fucked his slave girl. This guy wants to tell me we’re living in a community? Don’t make me laugh. I’m living in America, and in America you’re on your own. America’s not a country. It’s just a business. Now fuckin’ pay me.

That quote above from the end of the film (though not a spoiler in any serious sense) really sums things up for me, and I hope I’m not alone either. I’ll come back to that idea in a little bit, but I want you to really think about what Pitt’s character Jackie Cogan is saying to Richard Jenkins’ unnamed Driver character. It’s really what the movie is all about…

Much in the same way that Dominik and Pitt only saw widespread acclaim for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford a year or two after it came out, so might be the case for Killing Them Softly. I say this because it’s a film that I found myself appreciating even more the second time around. With so many people not having even seen it once right now (though the impending home video release will surely change that), it’ll take a while for multiple viewings to become the norm.

killing-them-softly-img08Really, you have to consider the film actually more as a period piece than anything else. Set in 2008, it looks sharply at where the recession left a group of people on the eve of Barack Obama beating John McCain for the Presidency, so another couple of years will give us some real distance of history to judge with. The politics of the film are something I could do a thousand words on, but I definitely think even now, with the 2012 election in the rearview mirror this can be viewed as political and socioeconomic commentary, a cautionary tale on Capitalism, if you will. Just look at the above quote for further proof of this. Unfairly but understandably marketed as an action flick or crime drama, the movie suffered from not delivering on what people assumed would be there. Pitt does shoot a gun, but more importantly he shoots his mouth, brilliantly summing up how many people felt in 2008 as George W. Bush was being replaced by Obama. I wrote in my initial review that it was likely to be a misunderstood work, and so far I’ve been proven right. Give it time though, and that might change. Being so close to last year’s election made it briefly into something that was potentially anti Obama or pro Mitt Romney when it debuted at Cannes, and while neither is true, it’s not really pro Obama either. The truth is, it’s anti hope, and there’s no better time to set that message than during the beginning of the candidate about hope taking office. That’s something that’ll be easier to look at without politics getting in the way as the years pass.

You can’t forget the acting either. Besides seeing Pitt do incredibly subtle yet stylish work as Cogan, you have Scoot McNairy as the de facto lead of the first half of the flick and the aforementioned Jenkins too. They all do work that has got to be considered among the best they’ve ever done, and time will only continue to help that angle. Especially with McNairy and Pitt, though for the former it’ll also have to do with when he really breaks through and becomes a known commodity to mainstream audiences. Jenkins and Pitt are familiar faces, though obviously to very different degrees. When Pitt’s career is looked at in retrospect, I have a feeling this one (and his performance) is going to be no longer overlooked, if that’s not the case already by then.

Obviously I’m not arguing that this is a legendarily good movie, but I do think it is incredibly underrated and time will only help increase its stature in the film community. I’ve really only scratched the surface, but I’m doing that to get a conversation going. What do all of you think?

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!