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Killing Them Softly

Directed by Andrew Dominik

USA, 2012

Cornerhouse, 22 September 2012

Killing Them Softly

One day someone will surely make a film of Outlaws, George V. Higgins’ best novel, but for the time being this one will do.

It is a fairly faithful adaptation of Cogan’s Trade (1974), the action being updated and set against the beginnings of the financial crisis we are still living through.  In essence, it is about the aftermath of a raid on a mob-protected card game, a raid done by stupid people who think they’re being clever.  The point of the story is that, politically speaking, ‘the truth’ is whatever people believe, whatever the hell that may be, and so appearances matter.  They matter in politics proper, of course, but they also matter on the street and according to the market.

Truth is a consensual fiction, that’s the fact of the matter.  And sometimes people have to die – even the innocent, if they exist – to make things look right.  To restore confidence in the system, whether capitalist or criminal, assuming this is a distinction that’s still worth making.  Perhaps Rene Girard’s notion of the ‘scapegoat mechanism’ explains this best.

This is a brilliant, albeit bloody and violent film.  Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini are on fine form – so too the rest of the cast – and clearly relish their roles, delivering dialogue that’s worthy of Higgins, though it may have been written by Andrew Dominik.  And Dominik’s direction and cinematic nous (and, as indicated, he also wrote the screenplay) are there for all to see.  Appropriately enough, the killing of Ray Liotta’s char is the most spectacular scene in the film.  His sacrifice, according to Girard’s auspices, restores order and stability, makes everything right.

A single viewing can only scratch the surface of this one, but it is enough to recognise its splendid virtues.