Thursday, 27 September 2012

Movie Review: Killing Them Softly

If you’re a fan of gritty crime movies with a twisted sense of humour and tons of style then say hello to the theatrical highlight of your year.

An experienced hitman is brought in to take care of a situation efficiently after 3 inexperienced criminals pull off a heist that they had believed was a sure thing. Showing both sides of the story ‘Killing Them Softly’ unfolds as a tense crime drama with an unadulterated view on the truth about America.

Kicking off with a jarring opening sequence that asserts the film's control over the viewer by attacking your auditory and visual senses ‘Killing Them Softly’ lets the audience know exactly what they are in for, an intense, self-aware thriller about the inner workings of crime that is like no other movie you will see this year.

What begins as a simple heist, soon turns into a much larger web of violence.

Set against the backdrop of the 2008 United States presidential election and the worldwide economic collapse this movie delivers a tale of pure juxtaposition, juxtaposition between the dream of America spoken about by politicians and advertisers, and the harsh reality of the rampant crime that thrives throughout its lands. A notable depiction of this theme features in a scene that comments directly on the undertones of political criticism throughout the film, in this scene Brad Pitt’s character Jackie Cogan scoffs at the notion of America being one people as Barack Obama declares in a speech on a nearby television. Refuting the President’s claim Cogan goes on to state that he is one solitary person who must fend for himself for the very fact that he lives in that same country of supposed united people.  

‘Killing Them Softly’ features an absolutely stellar cast of actors resulting in excellent performances across the board, thankfully all of the talented performers are used to their utmost potential thanks to the film’s great script. Fantastic veterans of the craft such as Richard Jenkins and Ray Liotta, who both deliver wonderful performances that are a pleasure to watch, populate the supporting roles nicely whilst Brad Pitt disappears completely into the lead role of Jackie Cogan leading to another award worthy turn from the actor who has been woefully unrecognised for his talent in the past. Other highlights of the cast include great performances by Scott McNairy as Frankie and James Gandolfini as New York Mickey, Ben Mendelsohn meanwhile very much impresses with his terrific portrayal of the eccentric drug addict Russell.

Brad Pitt is a perfect fit for the character of professional hitman Jackie Cogan.

The fantastic script of the film is stunningly refreshing and features characters that are so viscerally realised that they immediately dispel the notion of being anybody but their own person. Each scene is thoroughly enjoyable and densely packed with razor-sharp wit and humour, the sheer acid spat from the mouths of the film’s colourful characters complete with the tightly wound tone sets ‘Killing Them Softly’ aside as one of the best written crime films in a long time. What I personally found most pleasing about the script is its unpredictability factor, from one moment to the next the audience is never aware of what each character is liable to do or say and this serves to deliver a tense viewing experience for the audience member who has the good fortune of watching this masterfully-executed and very gripping crime drama unfold.

This movie doesn’t just possess style, it oozes it. Each shot has been painstakingly planned out in terms of scope and symbolism in order to best represent the story of the film as a whole. In regard to its cinematography, ‘Killing Them Softly’ is adventurous and completely willing to take risks evident from the numerous times throughout the film where it experiments visually with the deeper layers of the story. An example of this can be found during a scene involving the character Russell taking heroin and proceeding to have a conversation with Frankie, the viewer is shown the conversation take place whilst the film cuts to how each person is perceiving the talk. Frankie’s perspective is portrayed normally using standard angles and shots, however when switching to Russell’s point of view the scene takes on a vastly different tone as he starts to feel the effects of the drug take over him as demonstrated to the audience through cinematic representations like his perceiving of speech occurring at a dramatically slower rate and his experience of hallucinations about approaching an engulfing light, all the while carrying on a conversation with Frankie. I’m glad to say that the risks this movie takes more than pay off and in this instance of the story it added immensely to the vibe of the scene making it an even more enjoyable experience.

Ben Mendelsohn impressed me a great deal with his performance.

A further example of the unique style present in ‘Killing Them Softly’ occurs during the scenes depicting intense violence. Rather than simply portray these moments as outright brutality they are instead executed with an artistic flair that increases both the emotional impact and the visual beauty of the scene tenfold. One such moment happens during a scene where a character is being physically beaten in the earlier stages of the film, the ferocity and physicality of the violence is stunningly visceral thanks in large part to the realistic visual and sound effects employed throughout, whilst this beating is happening heavy rain pours down upon the characters in utter photographic spectacle.

Great films are often complimented by their great soundtracks and ‘Killing Them Softly’ is no different, the film features a brilliant mix of eclectically chosen songs which make huge leaps towards promoting the overall tone of the film whether it is through similarity with the scene in tempo or through the use of juxtaposition by playing a classic easy-listening tune alongside stylistic displays of ultra-violence.

‘Killing Them Softly’ came as a complete sleeper hit for me, what little expectations I had for it were shattered as it conquered my attention for the full length of its story. Such sensational filmmaking is a joy to view and proves that all of the greatest crime movies have not already been made. For me at least, ‘Killing Them Softly’ is right up there with the best in the crime film genre and it is certainly one of the best films of the year.

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