Film: "Killing Them Softly"; Cast: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins; Director: Andrew Dominik; Rating: ****
What is America? A great nation to some and to others an apostle of democracy, equality and liberty. Brad Pitt, in the last dialogue of "Killing Them Softly" says, "America is not a country. It's a business."
It is this notion of the US that the film, succinctly, tacitly and humorously peels up by looking at one of its 'greatest' homegrown 'business' - organized crime.
Aware that Markie (Ray Liotta), the owner of a gambling den had organized a successful robbery on his own den, a crook hires two small time cons to rob it again knowing that the blame will go to Markie. With the town's economy which depended on gambling, in ruins after this second hit, its crime lords call upon Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to clean up the mess.
What follows is not just a simple 'clean-up' but a complete overhaul and perception management of the 'business' in town.
"Killing Them Softly" is both a thriller and a comedy. It weaves in the best elements of both to give you a film that delights at many levels despite its unconventional treatment.
Instead of focusing on physical action, the film trains its lenses on seemingly inane meetings and conversations. It is thus filled with beautifully written and spectacularly enacted dialogues that may seem pointless to the average audience, but serves to take the story, 'action' and the violence forward in subtle but menacing ways.
Viewers who enjoy a freshly brewed, deep and rich drink will savour this tiny masterpiece like they have very few modern thrillers or comedies.
Yet, the masterstroke of the film is its brilliant metaphor, its parallel running and tagging up of the American financial situation with President George W. Bush trying to fight an economic downturn and incumbent senator Barack Obama talking of 'change'.
What the film insinuates with Bush and Obama talking economics on TV is something very provocative. It's well known now that the financial collapse of the American economy beginning 2008 was an inside job (just like in the film). In a below-the-belt metaphor to American capitalism, the film suggests that the assault on the economy was Bush's doing like Markie robbing his own gambling den.
And the 'change' required to restore order in the nation, comes from an enforcer, Barack Obama whose parallel is Jackie Cogan in the film.
The only change, however, that a business or a nation as a business will permit, is the change in profit. And finally when all is done and there's nothing left to be said, it all boils down to that one world 'profit' as Jackie Cogan and America talk business and minimizing losses.
Adapted from a 1974 novel named "Cogan's Trade", by George V. Higgins, this film by auteur Andrew Dominik (of "The Assassination of Jesse James" fame) is one of the most deceptively simple film you would have seen in a long time.
No matter what people say of America, one thing no one can doubt or deny is that it is a nation of the best politically critical cinema ever made in the world. And "Killing Them Softly", because of its deceptive demeanour, would stand way up at the top of this list.