Saturday, December 21, 2013

Killing Them Softly (2012) ***½

My wife opted not to watch this one with me, and man, did she make the right call.  It’s not that “Killing Them Softly” is a bad movie; it’s that it is very much a guy’s movie.  This 70’s-style crime story is full of killing and brutality, and the only female in the entire movie is a prostitute who appears in one scene.
Brad Pitt plays Jackie, a hit-man called in to deal out some Mafia-style justice after a couple of low-lifes rob a Mob-run poker parlor.  That’s pretty much the story.  These dirt bags rip off some other dirt bags, then run their mouths about it and wind up with a killer on their tails.  It isn’t the plot of “Killing Them Softly” that makes it such a good specimen of the crime genre, it’s the way the story is told.  The movie is paced with patience, allowing for lots of funny or poignant conversations that will remind viewers of a Tarantino movie, although in truth this style of film predates him.  In fact, with its amoral viewpoint, gritty urban setting, flatly portrayed violence, and realistic conversations between un-glamorized shady characters, this film reminds me of a 1973 movie called “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.”  (On further research, I learn that both films are based on 1970’s crime novels by author George V. Higgins.)
“Killing Them Softly” also tries to have something to say about America and the financial crisis of 2008.  News and political images from that time are interspersed through the film, and the motivations of the characters and even the Mob bosses are influenced by the effects of the recession.  The retro look of the film, in which the characters often wear 70’s-style clothes and drive 70’s cars is reminiscent of how the bust seemed to throw us all back into a financial stone-age, also of 1970’s vintage.
Really, the film could be viewed as a microcosm of the financial crisis. In the story, the gambling parlor, which gets robbed by a couple of unemployed guys, turns out to have previously been robbed by the guy running the parlor, a mobster named Mickey.  The fact that Mickey was allowed to get away with his betrayal (“They gave him a pass.“) and continue running the parlor is disgustingly similar to Wall Street speculators getting bonuses after their banks had to be bailed out by the government.  A major question for the hit-men in the film is whether the Mafia will order the same punishment for Mickey as for the low-lifes, and why that is necessary to restore confidence in the system.
“Killing Them Softly” is a deeply layered movie that lends itself to reflection.  The slow pace and the brutal violence mean that it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, though.  This is a guy’s movie, specifically a movie for the kind of guy who likes Richard Stark, Quentin Tarantino, and Steve McQueen.

3.5 stars out of 5

No comments: