The first 6 minutes of the new Brad Pitt movie Killing Them Softly is like watching a car crash in slow-motion where one car is filled with sweating sticks of dynamite and the other car is filled with rattlesnakes. The last time I experienced something similar at a movie was during the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs (probably while wearing green Doc Martin 8-holes and wondering what sick tribal tattoo I should get). Both opening scenes are unforgettable and leave a kind a happy scar on your psyche. In the age of Ice Age IV and a billion movies about Hobbits, having a film take you by the lapels and shake you is invigorating.
I’ll say it right now. For a certain audience, Killing Them Softly is a great movie. It’s a dark and angry and dirty commentary on the American way of life that was unflinching in its general disapproval and specific outrage. The allegory is really hard to miss too. Like you pretty much have to watch the movie with your head in a bag and listening to an mp3 of cats fighting to miss the symbolism. Inter-cut throughout the film are audio clips of political figures taken from the collapse of the housing market and the federal bailout in 2008. And in the movie a character comes and has to clean up a mess made by three idiots that has a horrific impact on the local economy. Jeez. I wonder if there’s a connection?
And all those characters are so, so, so dirty. I mean emotionally, morally, sexually and psychologically filthy too..but mostly…Eek! Moms in the audience will have to resist the urge to grab a crumpled Kleenex, wet it with their spit, and start scrubbing the screen. Somebody needs to come at every character in this movie with some of that old lye soap the pioneers used to dissolve their kids, or tan leather or whatever. You can practically smell the stink coming off of them. The bad aftershave and the sweat and the fear. It’s all there for us to breathe in, adding a desperation and a growing sense of impending doom as the movie rushes to its inevitable and easy-to-predict conclusion. It only pauses briefly a few times to highlight James Gandolfini playing a character so vile, that you’d have to make up a word to capture how gross he is. “Man, Gandolfini’s character in Killing Them Softly was so crapgarl! Like the crapgarliest!”
This may not be the movie to take the kids to. Between the dirty, Australian, dog-napping, heroin-addicted scumbag (I know, right?! Australian!), the nice prolonged beating scenes where Ray Liotta barfs repeatedly, or the treatment of women in general as…well, just you never mind how they treat women in this movie. I’m not saying every woman in the movie was a whore, because I wasn’t paying attention to the walk-ons in the background, but all the one’s they talked about and showed in the foreground were. Take the kids to see a movie that treats women a little more kindly. Like maybe Piranha 3DD or Pretty Woman. “Look kids! Money buys happiness! And sex!”
Killing Them Softly isn’t a movie you forget. You will remember every character in this movie intimately. The performances that director Andrew Dominik coaxes out of this cast are out of this world. Dominik is the same director that made the insanely under-appreciated film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He teamed with Brad Pitt in that film also, and produced my second-ever favorite Brad Pitt performance. My first favorite being Cogan in Killing Them Softly.
Like I said, this isn’t for everyone. But the people it IS for are me. This bumps Looper out of first position for films that kicked my ass this year.
I’d like to point out I made it through this entire review without using the word “gritty”.
That was a good challenge.