Thursday, October 18, 2012

Killing Them Softly

Synopsis: When a protected mob card game gets robbed, fingers point to the hapless Markie being the orchestrator, allowing the actual perps to get away with it. Or so they thought. Enter Jackie Cogan, the enforcer sent to sort out the mess - his way.

Should I blow - or should I go? Decisions decisions... 

This brutal character study in mob economics was adapted from George V. Higgins' 1974 novel "Cogan's Trade" but director Andrew Dominik made the wise decision to set it in the more recent future (2008), amidst the twin defining events of that year - the hope and optimism of Barack Obama's presidential campaign for change - which was buttressed by the near fatal collapse of the American monetary system with the economic meltdown instigated by careless financial institutions. This backdrop is perfect for the impending storm that Cogan will rain down on whoever is responsible for his employers misfortunes, systematically eliminating all the various problems & issues they present to deliver the only acceptable result for his employers. Total resolution of the problem, making sure it will not repeat itself. For Jackie, the only option is to act in DREDD-like fashion, as judge, jury & executioner (From a distance of course), righting the perceived wrong inflicted upon the mob. You don't steal their money - and expect no consequences. Forgiveness, they don't do.

From the outset, this movie was always going to attract attention due to the role that Brad Pitt plays with gusto, philosophical mob hitman Jackie Cogan, who has a distaste for killing up close ("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"), preferring a little professional distance as it were. Pitt is in absolute career best form here, as the hitman with ethics - his unique ethics mind you. His performance is finely nuanced as he approaches the tasks needed to carry out the job. At times you're cheering him on - happy justice is being meted out, then in revulsion when he is so casually brutal and completely unemotional when executing the miserable miscreant's that invariably beg for mercy. All, with a stonefaced look of utter contempt from our cold hearted mercenary. As far as Jackie's concerned, they're rats - and a dead rat is a good rat. Very easily, in my book, one of Pitts best roles ever. Wouldn't be surprised if he got an Oscar nomination - it's that good a performance.

Not only does Pitt acquit himself, but all the other main players have excellent roles that they inhabit with full use of their own personal acting skills. The two who surprise the most with their unfamiliar turns are James Gandolfini as a bitter, washed-up hitman for hire and Ray liotta as a snivelling, cowardly but stupid mob game handler, getting caught up with his problematic past which bites him severely. Gandolfini brilliantly portrays a  weary man at the end of the road, dejected, bitter, pissed off, resigned, and very compromised with his faculties being eroded by substance abuse. It's a not a million miles from Tony Soprano, but it is Gandolfini in a very different light. Liotta usually plays a psycho, but in this movie, he is yet another revelation, behaving in very carefree manner. In doing so, puts his senior position as pretty much untenable by his employers. You know he will meet a form of justice, you don't know when its going to happen, something Liotta plays to precision. Scoot Mcnairy and Aussie Ben Mendelsohn play the two dim-witted lowlife robbers, naive to the extreme in thinking that they'll get away with this audacious heist. Mcnairy does weasely with ease, but Mendelsohn, my god - you can just about smell his vile rankness off screen! He is another revelation, method acting to the inth, completely and repulsively compelling with his drug addled lunacy, careering  him headlong into an obviously serious date with destiny which will have profound consequences for him. Its not a spoiler to say that the first time you site him onscreen, his character just screams 'loser'. And, his fate is, (In hollywood terms) pretty much inevitable. Still, you do feel sorry for his predicament. Sorta. Er, no. He gets whats coming. Richard Jenkins plays the mobs' middle man (Just referred to as 'The Driver') as he usually does in all his performances, with a weary ease. Deftly handling Jackies interrogations about the nature of the task at hand, but resolute when it comes to the financial implications for all parties involved in this unfortunate matter.

The relationship between Jackie and the driver is the most crucial aspect of this compelling film. On one side you have the employer (represented by the driver) and on the other, the employee (represented by the hitman). Both fighting for the only thing that really matters to them. The money. All other factors are mere details to be dealt with as appropriate. The movie is encapsulated by one of the most memorable one-liners this year, I won't spoil it for you however, but when its uttered, it ties in the central economic theme of this compelling film very convincingly. Maybe too, this brilliant movie underscores the exact nature of how Americans view financial opportunities in the land of hope and dreams?

Without doubt, this will make my top ten list this year. Make it a 'must see' on your list of movies to watch!

Thus, my rating is fairly easy to predict :)

Jamies Rating...

J for... Jewel!

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