Now Playing: ‘Killing Them’ with Politics

Honestly, I don’t know if I liked ‘Killing Them Softly’. It’s a difficult movie to quantify. It made me think well after exiting the theater, but I still don’t know how I felt about it.

Andrew Dominik’s ‘Killing Them Softly’ is a gangster movie set against the backdrop of the 2008 election. Obama’s promises of hope and change drone on in the background as mobsters off each other for a few thousand bucks. Dominik (writer-director of ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford‘) not-so-subtly tries to draw parallels between the lives of nefarious gangsters and the political spectrum. What those parallels are, I’m not really sure, since different critics have come away with completely different readings.

I’ve read that Dominik’s screenplay is shameless liberal pandering, that it’s completely anti-Capitalist and likens the fat cats of Wall Street to greedy low-level criminal scum. I’ve also read that some people thought the entire movie was a referendum against how Obama’s espousing of change and hope in Washington didn’t work. One thing is for certain: Somehow, ‘Killing Them Softly’ is a political commentary on current events. I’m just not sure which way it leans.

Jackie (Brad Pitt) has been called in by higher-ups in the Mob to take care of a problem where three morons tried to knock over a Mafia-sponsored card game. One of them, a junkie, can’t keep his mouth shut, and soon Jackie is called in to clean up the mess. His way of cleaning things up usually requires making more messes. The bloody kind.

‘Killing Them Softly’ is a talky film. This isn’t a straight-up gangster movie, no matter what the previews show. Each conversation is somehow linked to the bigger, ambiguous political message. At times, it feels like Dominik is reaching for analogies that don’t seem to be there. Radios crackle in cars with messages about the financial collapse and Obama’s inauguration. The movie isn’t shy when it comes to presenting itself as political by nature.

What I got from the movie was that, either in the life of organized crime or the life of a suburban family, money works the same. It changes hands on a whim. It’s valued above most everything else. It’s the lifeblood of everything around us. No matter which end of the criminal spectrum we may find ourselves, money is always of utmost importance.

This is made clear as we watch Mickey (James Gandolfini) piss away his money on booze, food and whores. Jackie wonders aloud why he wastes so much money, and all Mickey can come up with is that it makes him feel good.

The movie is beautifully shot. A few scenes, like a drive-by shooting sequence, are spectacularly filmed with a breathtaking mixture of slow-motion and CG. It’s one of the most stunningly composed films of the year. However, I’m still unsure if I liked the story or not. It’s sure to cause heated discussions about what it actually means and what its agenda is. I’d like to watch the movie with an audio commentary in hopes of getting insight into what it’s really trying to say. Until then, I remain largely undecided.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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