Killing Them Softly Makes Criminality Look Awful

My review of Killing Them Softly, a movie I don’t necessarily recommend you see because its so grim), can be found here. A significant portion of the review got clipped, including all of the below. (Also, read the book it is based on: Cogan’s Trade.)

Killing Them Softly doesn’t work when the director, Andrew Dominik, indulges himself too muchpitt. The opening scene, where Frankie walks through a tunnel to meet a co-conspirator, is jarringly set to a jumbled cutup of one of Obama’s soaring oratories. I don’t know what the intended effect was, but the actual effect is simply annoying. One of the killings in the film is shown in slow motion for no discernible reason. It just looks arty and is far less effective than the brutal immediacy of the rest of the violence, which is simply hard to watch.

Killing Them Softly is set in the hectic days of the autumn of 2008, as the presidential election rages and the economy is in free fall. A light touch would have done fine here, but instead we get slow-witted thugs listening to George W. Bush and other policymakers (Hank Paulson?!) discuss the bailouts while they drive to deliver a beating. I may be wrong, but I don’t think two-bit gangsters listen to a lot of NPR. Killing Them Softly falters when it attempts to juxtapose of the film’s plot with the drama of the onset of the Great Recession in a heavy-handed fashion, which is jarring and pulls us out of the action to no coherent end.

At one point, when one low-life takes a break for a spot of heroin, the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” starts playing. As I recall, the main character of Irving Welsh’s Trainspotting, which is a sort of junkie Pickwick Papers, complains of fellow addicts who played the song while shooting up. “Wankers,” I believe he dubbed them. The same epithet can be applied to certain filmmakers.

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