“They cry. They plead. They beg. They piss themselves. They call for their mothers. It gets embarrassing.”
Why are movies about bad guys doing bad things so appealing to audiences? It can’t really be escapism if were watching these people who we’d never want to be, committing acts we’d never want to commit. And with a lot of them, we know going in there’s not gonna be some idealised ending where the bad guys pay for their sins and the good guys win the day. Buggers me what it is about these movies, but I do know that I love them. Including the undeservedly overlooked at the time, and kind of forgotten already, Killing Them Softly.
A few years ago, Markie (Ray Liotta) organised the hold up of his own illegal card game. He was the prime suspect, but managed to throw everyone off the scent. Recently, he spilled the beans, but enough time had passed that he got a pass. Which makes him an obvious patsy and fall guy if anyone else decides to rob his card game. Which is exactly what happens when Johnny (Vincent Curatola) hires low level scumbags Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) to do just that.
The consortium of local crime bosses know they look bad and that business will suffer as long as the two masked robbers go unidentified and unpunished. Cue hitman Jackie (Brad Pitt). A smooth operator, and unflappable professional, he convinces the bosses that finding the robbers isn’t enough. This time, it doesn’t matter if Markie had anything to do with it or not. The bosses look bad as long as he’s walking free.
Director Andrew Domink walks a fine line with the heightened, stylised look of Killing Them Softly. His camera doesn’t just capture the action, his camera is in the thick of it. When filming in the rain, water will pool on the lens, obscuring the view, making it all the more real and threatening. In one scene, the camera is mounted a car door, so when the door is slammed shut, the camera shakes. It’s such a simple, little moment that goes a really long way to making this world threateningly realistic.
In a hit scene, filmed in ultra slow motion, each time the hammer of the gun goes down, or a rain drop falls, or bullet breaks glass, or a shell pops out of the chamber, each and every tiny aspect is drawn out for an eternity. This movie is full of these moments that could seem cheap, or flashy, or overly cool for cool’s sake. But Dominik builds such a dirty, seedy and oppressive world, that nothing ever comes off as wannabe-cool, or as glorifying these people and their actions.
I’ll admit, having an Aussie director behind the camera made me predisposed to actively looking for reasons to like this movie. And filling out the cast with dudes like Pitt, Liotta, McNairy, Mendelsohn and James Gandolfini doesn’t hurt either. But I never had to actively look for reasons to like this movie. Killing Them Softly has plenty of reasons to like it right there, too clear to miss.