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KILLING THEM SOFTLY - POST RELEASE

post #1 of 29
Thread Starter 

This is on General Release in the UK so I thought it'd be OK to start a thread

 

I adore Andrew Dominik, CHOPPER is just stupendous and THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES is my favourite film of the 00s. As such I was very much excited for KILLING HIM SOFTLY. As such I’m kind of conflicted about the film, because I think from any other director I’d view it as an absolute slamdunk, but as a follow up to THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES it feels at times kind of perfunctory. That isn’t actually fair, for it’s first hour the film is amazing, it just deflates in its last half hour and ends on a resolution which I’m not sure about. The ultimate resolution feels earned and is perfectly keeping within the tone of the film, but it happens so switftly and mercilessly that I was left wondering what the overall point of the film was. Set just before the 2008 election, and littered with news excerpts dealing with the economic downturn, the film seems to be largely about individualism vs. groupwork and how that synchs up with the modern America. It’s a point that is kind of hammered home through discussions between the characters and through a fairly lengthy monologue towards the end of the film.

 

As such whilst there’s an obvious theme that the film is going for, the plot sort of exists to facilitate that theme. This is something that Dominik did with both his previous films (CHOPPER was more a character study than anything else, whilst THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES used plot as one of many tools) but in KILLING THEM SOFTLY it feels jarring. This is largely because the Elmore Leonard style setup and sheer volume of dialogue throughout the film grounds it in a way that the more ethereal ASSASSINATION wasn’t. As such you’re left wanting a satisfying resolution to the plot, rather than theme. That isn’t to say the film isn’t good, it’s borderline brilliant at times, playing with mood and tone with an amazingly deft touch and showing some directorial flourishes which should be hokey but which are executed which such command that they actually become kind of jaw dropping. The first hour of the film is great, and it largely benefits from a razor like focus on a small selection of characters.The first half of the film largely deals with a trio of small time criminals and their plans to rob a card game. The continued focus on these characters, and in particular the focus on the two actual robbers Frankie and Russell, buoys the first act even when the film is dumping information.

 

It helps that Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn have great chemistry. Mendelsohn in particular (who was so great in ANIMAL KINGDOM and so ridiculously wasted in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) manages to make what should be a sketch of a character actually work. He really brings a sense of history and persona to a character who is largely a cipher and his camaraderie with McNairy is fantastic. It’s when the film moves away from these two to focus on an ensemble cast that the film sort of loses its way, Brad Pitt sort of flits in and out of the picture at will and whilst he is great it’s hard not to shake the feeling that this is something of a vanity project for him. Pitt’s character, Cogan, has very little to do other than wax lyrical and be exceptionally proficient at what he does.

 

He’s like some streetwise sage, who happens to be murderously efficient. Pitt isn’t the problem, but having the film be framed as so in awe of his character sort of robs the film of an actual protagonist as the Frankie and Russell sort of disappear into the background during the second act. The introduction, late on, of Gandolfini doesn’t help either as his scenes are essentially monologues in all but name and need some kind of pay off that never comes. Essentially by the time the third act roles around we’ve become so disconnected from Frankie and Russell that it doesn’t really matter what happens to them. Which is a shame because the film is Great, it just feels like it’s missing something to make all the elements work together. When the film is working it feels like a stablemate of JACKIE BROWN, when it’s not it feels closer to THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU’RE DEAD.

post #2 of 29

I saw a screening of this a couple of weeks ago and loved it. You're right in saying that it is more concerned with theme than plot, and it does hammer the 2008 election stuff pretty mercilessly. While it gives the sense it's making a political statement, it's really all part of Coglan and how the story is essentially moulded from his perspective as a guy who is utterly cynical and dismissive of the idea of community. Note how every relationship in the film is dysfunctional at best, and outright damaging at worst: it's Coglan's disdain for unity and/ordependence writ large.

 

I think the film works best if you look at it as the middle part of a trilogy on the myth of the outlaw, and how it collapses when one's perception changes. You have Chopper, which has its fair share of grittiness but revolves around the charisma of 'Chopper' Reid, who we're encouraged to love despite his crimes and who fashions himself as a classic 'loveable outlaw'.

 

Then Dominik gives us Assassination, and a Jesse James who was just as mythologized in his day but who has completely rejected the mythmaking. He has recognized that what he does is ugly, and cannot stomach how it is romanticized by people who have no idea of what the life is actually like. he may have once believed his own hype like Chopper, but the romance has been beaten out of him and all that is left is existential malaise and a stark lack of purpose.

 

In KTS, Coglan can be seen to be at the start of this change of perspective. While he's ostensibly affable and charismatic, with a hint of Chopper-esque flamboyance, it's a thin veneer over a centre which is becoming increasingly cold and cynical. He no longer chooses to execute targets up close, expressing disdain for the reality of death that, now that he's come to recognise, he can't unsee: "They cry, they plead, they beg, they piss themselves, they cry for their mothers. It gets embarrassing. I like to kill 'em softly. From a distance" (IMDB to the rescue!)

 

Note how a lot of the violence in the film is like this. Nothing cool about it, all about victims and predators, pleading, sobbing and puking. The one exception, which is IMO Dominik's signal to the audience that the narrative is  designed to express Coglan's viewpoint, is when

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)

he takes out Ray Liotta's character.

A beautifully shot and serene sequence, completely out of step with how violence is portrayed the rest of the time, it shows us what Coglan means by 'killing them softly'. This is a hit as he likes to see them, and what we get is essentially what his mind has written it to have been. Dominik doesn't always show Coglan's POV in this way, but he sets up all the cards exactly the way he sees them.  

 

It's not that Coglan is some kind of sage (the above sequence tells us that he's just as prone to self-bullshit as everyone else), though it does feel like the film is portraying him this way at times. But that's because the film wants us to see Coglan as this all-round brilliant guy; it wants to flatter us with his wit and coolness the same way that the characters recognize him for his efficiency. The film wants us to recognize him as The Suave, Clinical Hitman so it can gradually reveal to actually be a fucked-up guy coming to a crossroads in his life. He's a man recoiling from the existential horror that death really is, and how that horror is his bread and butter and what it makes him. In short, he's a man who started like Chopper, but is on his way to becoming like Jesse James. In a way, it's like these three films are charting the decline of the Mythical Outlaw through three separate characters, with Coglan being the bridge between Chopper and James.

 

Dominik supports this idea by taking the opportunity to fuck with the audience's perceptions in lots of little ways, especially with the casting. Mendelsohn is indeed awesome, and having the character of Russell be Australian is a little slice of genius. It takes what is indeed a stock Movie Junkie, and inject them with Mendelsohn's ever-so-slightly off-kilter earthiness to make a character that conforms to the cliche, but who still feels authentic. We also have Liotta and Gandolfini playing characters who may be familiar in what they do, but in personality are very different to what we've come to expect from those actors. Even Sam Shepard's brief appearance, as a character who is talked about constantly but IIRC only features in one scene, feels like Dominik building then skewing audience expectations.

 

I definitely see what you mean about the film losing focus on Frankie and Russell, but I'd argue that the film was never really about them anyway. The film's about Coglan as the Romantic Outlaw coming apart at the scenes, and it's ultimately his opinions the story's in service to. It's the transitional installment of Dominik's outlaw trilogy, and suspect that it would work best being watched between Chopper and Assassination (Now there's a triple-bill!).

post #3 of 29

Wow, hard to add to what's already been said above.

 

I guess I'd have to say that I didn't fall immediately in love with this one the way I did with Assassination, but I certainly think it's a highly worthy effort.

 

I agree that the 2008 election/community/economy theme is kind of hammered too heavily at the expense of plot and, for my part, the music cues were also pretty heavy-handed but probably deliberately so, I suspect, if that makes sense.

 

It is certainly interesting to see Dominik constructing something of a stock figure "trilogy" of sorts as Worky describes above, but has approached each of the three in such dramatically different styles aesthetically. I guess this is where Chopper and KTS have to work so much harder to win me over, cos I'm a total sucker for the gorgeous vistas, lyrical flow of the dialogue and transporting score of movies like Assassination, whereas the hyper-realism of parts of Chopper (well the bits I remember - I haven't seen it for many years) and the sheer, unrelenting ugliness of KTS kind of wear me out before they begin, regardless of the import of the aesthetic to the story itself.

 

That said, kudos to the cast for being willing to look so unbelievably and continuously grotty and repulsive! Particularly Mendelsohn who really does milk it for all it's worth.

 

I guess I'd have to say that I naturally prefer greater emphasis on characters than themes, generally speaking, so overall this one didn't quite live up to my (admittedly, stratospheric) expectations. But I think it's worth a rewatch on DVD, but probably as a rental, not a purchase.

post #4 of 29

Yeah, I'd say that Asassination is a lot more lyrical, whereas Chopper and KTS are a lot grittier. Though thinking of the Liotta whacking scene, it seems doubly jarring that that particular hit is portrayed so lyrically while the rest of the violence is so stark. Thinking of Assassination, it seems to tie in with Dominik's idea (At least, as I see it) of violent men increasingly repulsed by violence yet increasingly romaniciszing the violence they commit as a reaction to that encroaching horror. That's my call, anyway.

post #5 of 29

I can definitely see that, but I think with KTS it suffers slightly from Jackie being mostly a speechifying, reactive vehicle, rather than the real characters that Chopper and Jesse seemed to be. I guess I lean more towards Brad doing a bit of a victory lap and not being asked to do as much heavy lifting this time around, similarly to Spike Marshall above.

 

I'm actually finding it quite difficult to articulate how I feel about this one. To the point where in one thought I can think of all the clever and interesting things about it as a piece of work, but then in the following thought, why that's still not really enough to really have me gushing with enthusiasm. I mean, I can say that it was far funnier than I expected, and Dominik still excels in creating utter suspense and dread with what you think you're about to witness, but at the same time it felt just a wee bit...off...somehow. Like it didn't quite all come together as well as it could have. I think Dominik does like to pull and tease with your expectations and surprise you. For me the casting didn't do that, it was more there being some moments where you think he (Dominik) has dropped the ball and kind of indulged the moment but actually, he hasn't at all.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)

(I'm thinking of the Gandolfini hotel room monologue, where I was really, really, really get bored with it, and then you see that that is in fact kind of the point of the scene)

post #6 of 29

No, I totally see what you mean. There's a weird kind of nihilism about this film, where the things you think are about to happen... Don't quite happen. Well, they might happen, to a fashion, but not exactly in the way you expect. But to me, that's kind of an analogy for the exact same thing; it's the outlaw in middle age, the idea that the mythical conception of how the world works seeing itself through, just not in exactly the way you expect. End result: the outlaw becomes the person he imagined himself to be, just not in the same context he expected to arrive there. 

post #7 of 29

I guess I can sort of see some of your critiques of this film, guys (great posts in this thread, btw), but I don't know. The obviousness, the sledgehammer element, is entirely intentional, because this is an angry film - and I kind of can't believe it came from an Aussie, since it seems very much rooted in the last few years of the American economy.

 

Think of that abrasive, smashcut opening. A bleak, empty field (where businesses used to be, no doubt) and a lone figure wandering through it, upset, obviously lower income judging by his stringy hair and ratty clothes. And then you get the smashcut to darkness with the grinding gears on the soundtrack, interspersed with then-Senator Obama's promises and bromides about a new America, and it really sets the tone for the entire film.

 

Loved loved LOVED this universe. It's not fair since I saw it mentioned elsewhere, but it really put me in the mindset of those grungy working-class crime movies like The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. And each actor hits it out of the park. Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn in particular. McNairy is a guy I've resisted, don't know why, but he's so funny and itchy and just a big bowl of jitters. Very Buscemi. And Mendelsohn just makes you want to take a bath, what a skeezeball. During that scene where he's talking about fucking goats and dogs, someone behind me gave up and said, "I don't believe this!" and stormed off. And, I believe, that's ten minutes into the movie. Then again, this is a pretty foul-mouthed movie.

post #8 of 29

Just got back from this and liked it quite a bit. It's at the top spot of my "bubbling under" my top 10 list so far this year. What keeps it from being truly great is after the first 45-50 minutes I feel it gets a bit bogged down and loses the pace it had in the first half of the film. I agree that this makes a good companion piece with George V Higgin's other crime adaptation The Friends of Eddie Coyle. It also gave me a bit of a Gone Baby, Gone vibe. Ben Mendelsohn, Scoot McNairy and Ray Liotta are the MVPs of the film to me. Pitt was good as usual but I'd have liked to see more of Mendelsohn and McNairy's everyday life past the opening 3rd to the movie. All in all a very good crime flick.

post #9 of 29

Normally don't focus on things like this, but the sound mix for this was incredible. The opening jump cuts, the way audio was used in the robbery, the way Bush and Obama's voices faded in and out of scenes was really unique. 

 

Still, it was a letdown after "Jesse James", which I think is pretty much flawless. "Killing" had a couple lulls in pacing which were a problem. And it seems some stuff was left on the cutting room floor that might have been interesting. We let Gandolfini ramble on and on in monologues, but don't get to witness his downfall? Why the hell was Sam Shepard in this for a grand total of 30 seconds? The junkie gets arrested and that's it? If you look on IMDB, there are a lot of actors listed who aren't even in this thing. I'm thinking/hoping we might get and extended cut at some point.

 

Overall, it's good with great parts. I was just hoping for more.

post #10 of 29

I left the theater thinking, this deserves an Oscar nod for sound editing for sure. The clacking of poker chips together during the robbery did it for me. 

post #11 of 29

Got an "F" on Cinemascore.

post #12 of 29

There was some old man who kept commenting when people would start to monologue. "Here we go again." Shut up, old man.  Guess people don't dig that, but whatever.

 

Real good movie.  Not a patch on Assassination, but I found it to be a weird companion piece to (the better) Seven Psychopaths.  This loving breakdown of the crime drama.  Killing has the violence and the crime and cursing but it's wrapped in the failing economy paper, the bigger picture, just like Seven's own meta take.  I quite liked it, it made me want to go home and read a Elmore Leonard book.

post #13 of 29

Yeah, during Gandolfini's final monologue in the hotel, some asshole behind me literally said: "There's too much talking in this movie!" It took every ounce of will I had to not turn around and say well, then shut the fuck up! Glad I didn't, really, he was an old guy with his wife and he didn't say anything after that anyway. I probably would have scared the shit of them as I'm just coming out of the flu and sound like Batman right now. Anyway, I really, really loved this. I wish Dominik trusted the audience a bit more and let the hand relax, but otherwise, I had a great time. It only stuck out for me after the film ended, but as much as women are a part of the conversations between men, they're virtually invisible on screen save for a single prostitute. Also, Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendehlson are obscenely talented, but audiences may be hard pressed to realize that they've been watching the same actors in between all of these different characters..

post #14 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by JacknifeJohnny View Post

Yeah, during Gandolfini's final monologue in the hotel, some asshole behind me literally said: "There's too much talking in this movie!" I

 

I don't...what?  

post #15 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by JacknifeJohnny View Post

 It only stuck out for me after the film ended, but as much as women are a part of the conversations between men, they're virtually invisible on screen save for a single prostitute.

Of his films I've only seen Jesse James, but this seems like a common criticism of Dominik.

post #16 of 29

I couldn't stand the James Gandolfini character. I found his monologues which is basically all of his scenes to be terminally dull and completely stopped the film whenever he came on sceeen.

post #17 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fafhrd View Post

Of his films I've only seen Jesse James, but this seems like a common criticism of Dominik.

 

I think the only people that could possibly complain about this are those whom b/c of their distaste for the fact that most films are made for a male demo, are blinded to the fact that Dominik's films have, thusfar, been about men. Dominik's vision is his vision, he needn't play to quadrants.

post #18 of 29

I've heard a lot of people say they didn't like the Gandolfini character and found his role to be pointless to the story, but I disagree. I found it humorous that after Cogan vouched for him so much to Richard Jenkins and even convinced him to raise his hitman fee, Mickey shows up and is just an unfocused, self-involved mess. Cogan's solution to solving the problem with Mickey was also humorous and showed how the characters in this film are really only looking out for themselves, which heavily relates to the political allegory.

post #19 of 29

Gandolfini's character is a middle-aged man who made no plans to be a middle-aged man, saved not a penny, and at a time when things are bad all over, he's completely lost w/out a net and blowing the little cash he does have on  pitiable distractions like booze and hookers who treat their anuses like national treasures. He's supposed to be tiresome and in those scenes, Cogan's silent exasperation with his endless fucking babbling makes him a surrogate for the audience.  

post #20 of 29

Saw this earlier today and walked out of the theater just wanting to burn this mother down. Jesus, what a scathing, angry indictment of the whole American ideal. Such a bleak fucking picture set in post-2000 Anytown USA (though it sounds Bostonish), corruption, greed, individualism. Was it a little too on the nose? At times (why are podunk mob enforcers listening to politics on the radio?) but fuck man, left angry.

post #21 of 29

I would call this movie is a noble failure. That's probably the most charitable I can be with it. Great performances and editing on the good side, unearned self-importance and terribly on the nose for the other.

 

ETA I am still grappling with this film in a major way. My feelings are subject to change on a second viewing.

post #22 of 29

I got the point of Gandolfinis character I still found his character to be such a bore. He just stopped the film completely for me.

post #23 of 29

I'll definitely need to check this one out again. I left feeling very lukewarm. The Gandolfini character, while played very well, was useless. The whole movie just seemed to be a setup for Pitt's final lines. Everyone was great, it was shot well and looked great. It's just... I don't know. I wasn't a fan.

 

I'm hoping that I'll feel differently after a second viewing.

post #24 of 29

I haven't seen this yet for some reason. Andrew Dominik is one of my favourite directors right now. It's interesting to read the polarising opinions about it. I had the exact same feelings about 'The Assassination of..' but it has grown to be one of my favourite films ever. The authenticity of the times. The humanity of the characters. The beautiful yet haunting filming of that train hold up scene. The only movie that could make me feel horny about fucking in an outhouse. I could go on..

 

 Andrew Dominik and Ben Mendelsohn did a Q&A in Sydney in September. Did any of you Aussie chewers go to that? I would have gone if I didn't just find out it happened. My eye is not on the ball!

 

 There is a beautiful old cinema here in Melbourne called 'The Astor', which plays nightly double bills and regular Q&A's. It's a ten minute walk from my house. It's heaven. It will be on there soon. I don't want to experience this on Blu Ray.

 

 I agree Mr Mendelsohn was wasted in TDKR. It was almost like Nolan saw 'Animal Kingdom' and shoehorned him in there. His brief appearance made me think he could be have been a nasty, smarmy equal to Bane. He got punked. 

post #25 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by JacknifeJohnny View PostHe's supposed to be tiresome and in those scenes, Cogan's silent exasperation with his endless fucking babbling makes him a surrogate for the audience. 

I had a helluva time just watching Pitt in those scenes. He's such a badass expert, and he's struggling to keep his composure as he slowly realizes he's made a terrible mistake, and his friend's completely gone to pot. Even in that first conversation, I thought there was something very real and very human about his subtle comments on Gandolfini's drinking.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Doc Happenin View Post

Saw this earlier today and walked out of the theater just wanting to burn this mother down. Jesus, what a scathing, angry indictment of the whole American ideal. Such a bleak fucking picture set in post-2000 Anytown USA (though it sounds Bostonish), corruption, greed, individualism. Was it a little too on the nose? At times (why are podunk mob enforcers listening to politics on the radio?) but fuck man, left angry.

These dudes probably stole those cars and left the radio on? I mean, there's so much TV and radio in this movie, and NO ONE is watching or listening except for Cogan in the final scene.

post #26 of 29

Yeah. I think part of the point was that no one was listening at all while McCain and Obama are once again trying to sell the people (especially these people) a bill of goods that went bad a long, long time ago. Jackie's the smartest guy in the room because he realizes what's really behind the America he lives in now, to everyone else, the radio and political chatter is just white noise between sips of alcohol.

post #27 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Daley D View Post

 I agree Mr Mendelsohn was wasted in TDKR. It was almost like Nolan saw 'Animal Kingdom' and shoehorned him in there. His brief appearance made me think he could be have been a nasty, smarmy equal to Bane. He got punked. 

 

From an interview w/ Mendelsohn (not necessarily about TDKR) mentioned how Nolan hadn't seen Animal Kingdom and Mendelsohn had to audition. He didn't want to, but his agent pressed him to do it. Mendelsohn wasn't wasted. Talented actors often have relatively bit parts in big movies. It's a thing.  

post #28 of 29

Two things thing really bugged me. During the first meeting between Cogan and Mickey, the amount of beer in the glasses kept changing. Yes, movies are shot out of sequence, but damn, this was just jarring. Also, Cogan cleaned this fingerprints off the car at the end, but left the gun he used on squirrel in the backseat.

 

Great movie though.

post #29 of 29

Speaking of Mendelsohn, apparently he wanted to pull his teeth for his role The Place Beyond the Pines.  God forbid he ever plays Oedipus.

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