Killing them softly is another mis-advertised film staring Brad Pitt. Quite famously Fight Club (1999) one of the greatest films ever made suffered at the hands of Fox’s marketing dept when they decided to promote it based solely on it’s name; and it came across as being in the same vein as Kick Boxer (1989)or Bloodsport (1988). So I avoided for years what would become one of my all time favourite movies; and the foundation for my entire political and ideological stance. When I finally saw it boy was I pissed.
However killing them softly’s mis-advertisement will operate in the opposite direction. The trailers seem to tout it as being some great gangster film and having all the trappings that come with it. This is sure to get bums on seats but as the showing I went to last night proved this is going to piss a lot of people off. Several patrons walked out before the end, including one who decided to stop just by the exit and share with the rest of us at the top of his voice that; this is a ‘fucking shit film’. But if I’m honest I don’t expect the general movie going public to respect a movie like this, after all they have spent years having their brain cells slowly whittled away by Bruckheimer movies and re-runs of Two and a Half men.
A little prudent research told me straight away that what I was going to see wasn’t what they where selling this as, so I tell you now Andrew Dominik directed this. He also directed The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford (2007). One of the slowest movies I have ever seen, but also one of the best character pieces I’ve had the pleasure to watch in a long time. And that’s what we have here a character piece about the seedier side of life. There’s no glamour to this film it’s just dirty. It takes place in amidst the remains of once affluent American manufacturing towns. The landscape is dotted with dilapidated houses and empty lots; the streets are littered with garbage and abandoned furniture. Even the local crime boss lives on a trailer park. But the degradation isn’t just in the landscape everyone looks bad in this film, there’s no veneer of Hollywood. Brad Pitt looks old and tired, james Gandolfini is huge, and Russell played by Ben Mendleson looked so dirty I actually wanted to have a shower at the end of the movie. This aesthetic approach stretches even to the credits, Killing them softly’s title sequence and end credits look like they belong on a cheap Grindhouse movie, if you’ve ever done any movie slumming you’ll know what I mean. They reminded me of some of the old Golan-Globus stuff.
The film takes place during the 2008 American election and more importantly during the economic crisis we all found ourselves in. All through the film there are TV’s and radios dotted around and the subject of the broadcasts are always money and the economy, and that’s what this film is about money, and the death of the American dream. There’s always been a running theme through gangster films that America is the land of opportunity especially if you are willing to break the law Scarface (1932, 1983), Once upon a time in America (1984) and even more recent films like Lawless (2012) show this. But Killing me softly just comes out and says, crime is low down and dirty, it takes place in grubby seedy places and there’s nothing nice or glamorous about it America is dying even the criminal good life is no more than a myth.
Analysis aside will you like this film? Well you may find it hard going even I did, it plays a lot like a Coen Bros film. To me it felt like a cross between No country for old men (2007) and Fargo (1996) so gritty and brutal, but with the odd smattering of dark humour. And that the best way I can think to describe it. Personally I love the Coen’s work but I hate No country for old men, so what I’m trying to say is, I like this film but it took some hard work for me to enjoy it But I think you should give it a go it may prove to be rewarding.
If you’re not up for this then any of the films I’ve mentioned in here will be well worth a watch, however for sheer enjoyment just watch Fargo.
It’s been three years since Public Enemies (2009) and Johnny Depps excellent turn as legendary criminal John Dillinger, but at last it seems that the period crime film is making a return. First with Lawless and then eventually with Gangster squad which is currently being held in limbo thanks to the nutcase who shot up the Dark Knight Rises premier earlier this year. (Gangster Squad you see features a shoot out in a cinema as its climax, just another reason to hate that douche)
Lawless is the tale of the Bondurants, three bootlegging brothers who operated out of Franklin County Virginia during prohibition, their budding romances well at least for two of the brothers, And their run-ins with the law. Or more accurately with a corrupt special deputy who tries to get them to pay most of their earnings over to him. After having enjoyed years of being able to operate unmolested they take exception to this and to the men from the city turning up to oppress their entrepreneurial enterprise. And its this central theme that makes me like Lawless so much. I hate authority, and I hate it when authority tries to tell me what to do. Lawless is about the small fish standing up and fighting back against authority, no matter what happens to the Bondurants they pick themselves up and keep on going, and eventually win out over the men from the city. Nothing makes me happier.
About the only downside to lawless is the fact that Shia leBouf features quite prominently, but he’s playing a young cocksure kid who keeps causing trouble for his brothers, which is pretty much the role he always plays in one form or another. And as he’s had a lot of practise he pulls it off with aplomb.
Lebouf aside the rest of the cast put in some magnificent performances; especially Guy Peirce who gives us a master class in villainy, as the dandified Charles Rakes, an amoral tittering monster, and someone you will have no difficulty hating. Also of note is Tom Hardy as the guttural Forrest Bondurant who manages to convey entire conversations in short grunts, which for me was an inspired piece of characterisation. He plays the role like a large slumbering beast. He only speaks when needed and only acts; usually in great flurries of violence, when it’s absolutely necessary. And this film is violent, not action film violent but realistically violent. There are moments while beatings are being dealt that I flinched. These men operated in a dangerous industry and the brutality of their world is clearly displayed here, its part of who they are and an important part of understanding who the characters are, but more importantly I feel as though it’s never glorified violence.
Overall Lawless isn’t perfect. It features it’s fair share of clichés, and little niggling elements that some may not like, an obviously sacrificial character, hooker with a heart etc. But I personally can’t fault it. It’s been a while since I’ve really enjoyed a good crime film, and Lawless has filled a gap for me that I didn’t realise was there until something this good turned up.
If you’re not interested in watching the antics of a couple of moonshining good oldboys, but still want some period crime, then give The Untouchables (1987) a go instead. See what was going on in the cities while the Bondurants and their ilk were keeping America wet.