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'Killing Them Softly' uses political themes

By Brendon Field
On December 3, 2012

"Killing Them Softly" is one of the most stylistically unique and structurally unorthodox movies I have ever seen. After it concluded, I sat in my seat attempting to process it in my head, with little success. I still haven't figured out whether or not its peculiarities work in its favor.
"Killing Them Softly" takes place in New Orleans during the end of the Bush administration. We are first introduced to several small time criminals, Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), two low lives hired to rob a card game in order to frame the man who runs it (Ray Liotta). The top billed Brad Pitt is introduced a third of the way in as the hitman hired to clean things up. While the film is driven by the story, it's so menial "Killing Them Softly" is actually more like a slice of life piece, with the mob as the subjects. The film contains multiple scenes, two striking ones with James Gandolfini as an aging mob boss who simply serves to enlighten and entertain without having any relevance to the plot.
 "Killing Them Softly" is a very unique piece of work. It seems to run on its own rhythm, completely avoiding any traditional storytelling structure. It begins and ends in unsuspecting places; it uses unusual scene juxtaposition and is unafraid to have single scenes stretch out for nearly ten minutes. Another factor that makes it stand out is the cinematography. The takes are long, the framing is tight and the style often drastically goes between hyper realism and avant-garde. Sitting through it is almost hypnotizing, and it really heightens the suspense. There is one scene where a character is mercilessly beaten, and the filming and editing makes the violence look raw and heavy. I could practically feel the punches and taste the blood.
The one area where "Killing Them Softly" falls flat is the themes. Throughout the film political speeches are heard, far too often in the background discussing the economic collapse that occurred when the film takes place. It seems "Killing Them Softly" attempts to portray the criminal economy as a microcosm for the American economy, but the connection is never made. You're left with speeches by George Bush and Barack Obama that take up ten minutes of the run time. To make matters worse, this isn't the type of movie that needs to lay its message out on table; the actions of the characters should say enough.
I can't honestly say I enjoyed "Killing Them Softly," but what I can't deny is when looked at objectively, the film works on many fronts. The performances are great, the writing is solid and it's put together spectacularly. It's a very interesting way to spend an hour and a half, and it gave me a viewing experience I likely won't get again.


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