BY KILEY BELL
People often describe the television show Seinfeld as “a show about nothing.” In the case of Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, I would describe it in much the same way as “a movie about not much.” But as dedicated viewers of Seinfeld know, having a show about nothing can be just as great as having a show about something. This is the basic theory I apply to Killing Them Softly.
The plot (taken from George V. Higgin’s 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade) is a relatively simple one. One bad guy wants to hire another bad guy and his bad guy friend to pull off a bad robbery. Simple enough. The hired men knock over a mafia poker game and in an entirely nerve-wracking scene (I swear, the audience in the theatre were holding their breath) they actually manage to escape unscathed with the money. All’s well that ends well. Except in the event that the mafia gets pissed off at those who stole their money and decide to hire a hitman in the form of Jackie Cogan (played by Brad Pitt), a surprisingly intelligent guy that knows exactly how to successfully complete the kills (softly, of course). Once I got over how unbelievably gorgeous Brad Pitt looked as a badass mafia hitman (it took a few dozen minutes), I was able to focus on the plot once more. In the spirit of not dishing out spoiler alerts, I’ll just confirm that things get messy, disgustingly bloody, and cinematically brilliant.
To make up for the film’s slow start, the last half has all the brutal action one is expecting to find in a mafia movie. Add in a side plot featuring the alcoholic, oversexed and washed-up hitman Mickey (played by James Gandolfini, who, as we all know, plays mafia really well) and the movie gets good. Almost Oscar-contender good.
While all of this plot-driven and character arc stuff is what makes the movie exciting, what really makes the movie notable is the over-arching theme. The book was written in 1974, but Dominik decided to renew the plot by setting it in the middle of the 2008 Obama/McCain election. When you add in various clips of election speech entirely visible on televisions in the background (usually at seedy bars), and the constant talk of economic downfall and “every man for himself” mentality, the theme of American capitalism is impossible to ignore. And just in case you were too distracted by Brad Pitt’s beauty or too bummed out by the death of a character you hoped wouldn’t get killed to notice this capitalism theme, the ending line (spoken by Cogan) is there to help you pick up on it…
“I’m living in America and in America you’re on your own. America’s not a country. It’s just a business. Now fuckin’ pay me.”
A student of Centennial’s post-graduate Book and Magazine publishing program, Kiley enjoys spending most of her time crying over Tom Hanks romcoms, watching Downton Abbey and hoping that Michael Fassbender and Steve McQueen continue making movies with only each other.