Monday, 11 February 2013

2012 films: #9


Directed by Andrew Dominik

After all the ‘light’ entertainment, after visually delightful epics, witty (some might say cutesy) soft comedies and imaginative flashy cartoons, there is always time for something as grim and humourless as Killing Them Softly. In a way, Dominik’s film tickles similar nerves to those touched in 2011’s overlooked The Ides of March by George Clooney. This is the flipside of Obama’s banner, and there’s no getting away from it: it looks rather bleak.

Essentially, Killing Them Softly is a stylish, laconic, expertly executed noir thriller. The mood is desperate and unnerving, but also horrendously business-like. The colours are so understated, the actual thing could have been shot in black & white. Killers kill (for pay) and payers pay (for killings), it’s all done in a no-nonsense, matter-of-fact way, in shady offices and under faceless bridges. The hypocrisy is impressive (we never even get to see who stands behind it all; not that we need to, of course), and it brilliantly reflects the tough reality that allows no jokes or emotions. Having said that, there is an unlikely sentimental edge to it, one that can be traced in the film’s infectious title.

Still, in a somewhat perverse way, there’s something appealing to all this dismay. One particular murder scene features some of the most beautiful slow-motion sequences I’ve ever seen. The soundtrack is classy, too, with Nico’s “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams” doing a particularly effective job of underpinning all that sickening atmosphere. The acting throughout is superb. Richard Jenkins gives an exciting fragile edge to the proceedings, James Gandolfini is hilariously gruesome, and Brad Pitt’s performance is about as tight and gripping as you can get.

Killing Them Softly is so deeply steeped in cynicism and routine murder, that I can see why many would feel squeamish (the actual word makes an effective appearance in one of the film’s best dialogues) and grope for the hopeful political promises of Lincoln (or something). This, however, is the brisk, but irresistible glimpse of reality: “Now fucking pay me!..” 

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