KILLING Them Softly, the third feature from director and ex-Melbournite Andrew Dominik (Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) begins, jarringly, with almost-distorted crowd noise playing like discordant notes in between static cuts to white credit text on a black screen. A man walks, huddled, through a decaying landscape in New Orleans, rubbish swirling around his despondent frame. The camera hovers above his head, focusing on an Obama/McCain billboard, instantly informing the viewer of the time period. This is an America on the cusp of the Global Financial Crisis; an America grasping for hope. The shadow of the GFC looms menacingly throughout the film, with radio and television broadcasts of speeches by Obama and Bush Jr permeating what seems like every second scene. It’s bleak and unforgiving in the good ole US of A, and organised crime is feeling the pinch just like everyone else. When two young upstarts, Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) decide to bust in and rob a mob card game they step into a world of trouble. Freelance mob enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is tasked with organising the pair’s demise, and it isn’t a simple cat-and-mouse game. Killing Them Softly is, in a way, the antithesis of typical crime/heist outings. Glorified character deaths are non-existent – each one is frighteningly swift and brutal; cars aren’t representations of a gangster’s wealth, they’re (mostly) the final gory resting place for those taking a bullet; and women aren’t culpable bystanders or trophy wives, they’re an afterthought. In fact, the only appearance of a female in the entire film comes in the form of a hooker, who is unceremoniously shown the door by the slovenly drunk Mickey (James Gandolfini, one of several faces from The Sopranos to appear) within a few minutes. The Weinstein Company pushed back the US release of the film to late November, hoping to further its chances of Oscar contention. As far as performances go, Pitt’s is sound, but the real focus should be on Mendelsohn, who transforms into possibly the greatest sweat-laden junkie Aussie yobbo ever depicted on screen. One early scene with co-addict character Frankie is both maddeningly frustrating and beautifully realised; the pair of them attempting to converse with one another whilst each zoning in and out of a drug-addled haze every few seconds. There are no easy resolutions in this bold study of crime and capitalism, and that’s what makes it so damn special. Screening from November 1 at Stadium 4 Cinema Leongatha.
Killing Them Softly (dir. Andrew Dominik) MA15+