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Review: Killing Them Softly

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Killing them Softly is a gritty crime thriller – gritty in the sense that every character has palpable dirt underneath their fingernails.  It’s almost perfectly paced – the violence is brutal and enthralling, although oddly, the scenes of dialogue can be more tense and harrowing than the murders and beatings.  Thematically, the film is clearly about corruption and is played over a background of the 2008 election and financial crisis.  If someone were to demand a doctrine from the film, that’d be asking too much.

The film starts with the robbery of a mafia card game and the subsequent fallout.  Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is called in to deal with the aftermath.  He does this, predominantly, with gunishment and slicked-back hair.  The plot is solid and engaging, and perfectly paced – not one line of dialogue or scene is superfluous.  This is particularly admirable as blockbusters become more self-indulgent and lengthening to the point of parody – I’m looking at you, Hobbit trilogy.  The plot rattles along at a good pace, occasionally punctuated by brutality.  The violence has a real weight to it – and is delightful.  The action isn’t the highlight though, the dialogue reigns supreme in this film.  There were scenes of only dialogue, but of such intensity, that I felt ragged and worn out afterwards.  The hold this film exerts is doubly strange, considering that there’s really no-one in the film to root for; every character is ethically repugnant, but somehow we’re drawn into this moral cesspool and held under.

Many reviews have been complaining that the underlying theme of the film is far from underlying.  It’s true that the ‘subtext’ is far more overt than it could be – every radio is either discussing the ‘08 financial crash or has Obama speaking eloquently about the dream of America.  The film doesn’t suffer – there’s no didactic message here, just a thematic context.  The plot isn’t obscured or compromised by the presence of this theme, although it could have been dialled down slightly.   Either way, I enjoyed the fuck out of it.

GRADE: A-

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