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Killing Them Softly by Andrew Dominik

January 17, 2013

Killing Them Softly is a crime film in the literal sense of the definition: all its characters are members of the criminal world, the legal world appears in the film only through television and radio broadcasts of speeches by then  President George W. Bush, Ben Bernanke and newly appointed White House resident Barack Obama (the last scene of the film happens during President Obama’s 2008 victory speech). This background of voices from the political world is provided all along the feature: the first impression it gives, is the falsity and grotesque of it, all these mobsters so busy listening – no matter what they’re doing – to the political world, alas Dominik’s game becomes pretty obvious from the first scene of the film, the juxtaposition of criminal and political world implies heavily that one echoes the other. This is nothing new, that politics is a legal crime is an old concept widely represented on film in much subtler and concise ways – just think of the famous line “Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?” Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) says to Kay (Diane Keaton) after her line “Presidents and senators don’t have men killed”.

Director Andrew Dominik seems to like working genre films, in 2007 he presented his own version of the western film with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, now with Killing Them Softly he takes on the crime film: the great richness of film genre is that it has its own cinematic devices, if you don’t use them or misuse the film doesn’t work. Nowadays we see ponderous essays and books written about film genres – western, noir, et cetera – we see a lot of analysis and interpretation, their simple and effective stories had much hidden content, there is more than meets the eye there, it was subtle and concise content, Killing Them Softly is never concise nor subtle – OK, one scene is pretty good, the one with the heist – but its grim take on American society is hard to believe when you consider this is a Hollywood film and the spectacular beating and killing scenes involving Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), unless we have to consider this contradiction containing the true meaning of the film, Dominik maybe is telling us: do you think you are watching a j’accuse of the American way of life? we don’t care what you think, we’re not subtle, we’re not intellectuals, we – just like Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) – want our money.

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