Killing Them Softly (2012)

Beautifully visceral cinematography from Greig Fraser, and Pitt is unusually menacing; but central metaphor — the myopic robbing of a criminal poker game causing the downfall of the underworld economy substituted for the myopic robbing in the financial markets causing the downfall of the world economy in 2008 — is neither narrativised nor conceptualised effectively enough. As for the former, Dominik is far from subtle: he insists on confirming the thematics in the perpetual cranking up and down of sound from (now) epochal speeches by Bush and Obama in gangster’s car stereos and bar TVs; and Pitt’s final monologue is a masterclass in didacticism. This wouldn’t be a problem if the film didn’t have little by way of emotional heft, too, it’s characters seemingly ciphers or vehicles for a political argument. Which itself might also be less of a problem if the argument was better. It’s clear that Pitt is the US State itself; his hits seeking to ‘restore confidence’ rather than seek justice or solve the problem, and in this is obviously analogous to Washington’s response to the GFC (QE; some fig-leaf reforms; maybe one or two personnel sacrifices). But elsewhere the metaphor breaks down: the financial crisis was the result of systemic weakness, not momentary exogenous stupidity. And the apparent arbiters of the system — high-profile banking executives; credit-rating and other regulatory agencies; politicians themselves — were if not directly in on it, then indirectly (financially and/or ideologically) committed to it. This incestuous, self-defeating, and yet remarkably persistent power-structure does not fit with that presented by Killing Them Softly, and so the decent cognitive-mapping potential contained within the genre-allegory hybrid ultimately fails. Still, it’s a worthwhile attempt, but one marked by the Adornianism that an explicitly political artwork often ends up neither as good artwork, nor as good politics.

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Trey Taylor

Trey Taylor

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22. BA Political Theory and Sociology, Cambridge University. Currently studying an MA in Philosophy and Contemporary Critical Theory at Kingston University.