One thing I’m loving about HD – seeing all the lines in actor’s faces. For something dark and tension driven like Killing Them Softly, it really adds to the effect. Of course, there’s also something wryly satisfactory in seeing the flaws in actors and actresses famed for their beauty (in this case, Brad Pitt). It’s humanising…
Killing Them Softly is all too human. A darkly comedic depiction of low-level gangland life in urban America: tense, depressing, bleak, funny but certainly not in a heart-warming way. An ill-considered heist goes, of course, awry, and we follow Pitt’s character, Jackie Cogan, as he tracks down the luckless culprits in an intense, choppy narrative, littered with noisome, faded mob figures. The backdrop is one of urban decay and deprivation; it rains a lot and the sky is always grey in that heavy, smothering, hope-draining way. It is unrecognisable as New Orleans. At least, for those of us who don’t know that city, who would associate it with Mardi Gras, jazz, and vibrant Cajun culture.
The narrative is accompanied by a commentary of the growing economic doomfulness of 2008, and the run-up to Obama’s election win, unashamedly drawing parallel between the intrigue, scape-goating and scalping of the mafia world, and the politics of economics.
The slick, quirky, pragmatic Cogan in ‘Killing Them Softly’ [image:guardian.co.uk]
All of the characters are morally flawed, none appealing. Even Cogan in his dark, sharply dressed, chain-smoking manner, is something short of charismatic. The nearest to a likeable character is Russell, the incompetent, filthy, smack-injecting Australian with a constant sheen of grimy drug-sweat slicking his face, who makes up one half of the inept heist duo. At least he has a sense of humour. There are no heroes in this story, no glory in this gangland perdition. This film seems FAR from Hollywood.
This is the second Hollywood movie I’ve seen recently that depicts such an American urban dystopia. Killer Joe, although certainly a different style of story and film, communicated the same themes. People on the fringes – desperate, moneyless, under-educated – whom the State and the ‘American Dream’ have overlooked, but who are still consumed by the Dream – if only they can get money, then they’ll have it all: they can do anything and be anyone and be part of it all; be real Americans.
McConaughey as the fantastically creepy ‘Killer Joe’ [image:whysoblu.com]
I use the term ‘Hollywood’ as both these films are made by directors and contain actors established in that scene (can you get any more Hollywood than Brad Pitt and Matthew McConaughey?). I don’t know enough about the US film industry and haven’t watched nearly enough films to comment knowledgeably, but I get the feeling that this marks some shift away from traditional Hollywood fare? Films depicting economic deprivation, underclass, and hopeless violence have doubtless always existed, but were they ever let into the mainstream? There have always been films about the mob, about gang life, criminality, ‘the ghetto’ or ‘white trash’, but in Hollywood there’s ALWAYS a hero (even an anti-hero), always an element of glory, or eleventh-hour morality…
Killing Them Softly and Killer Joe are in keen juxtaposition to the overwhelming mass of contemporary Hollywood excretion, which continues to be a sickening mulch of re-makes, sequels, prequels, overblown CGI farce and unoriginal brain-rot. But, following on from HBO’s ground-breaking Bush-era drama, The Wire, I wonder if between the lines of the black comedy, the self-deprecation (not attributes associated with Hollywood or with America), and Brad’s beautiful face, there is a signal of change…
Acknowledgement of the failed Dream.