Killing Them Softly has got legs. It is one of those films that quietly gathers a decent slice of box office every week, but never really gathers big time buzz.
When I went to see it last night there were about a dozen people in the auditorium with me. Not bad for a Sunday night screening of a medium budget movie in its fifth week of release.
A look at the box office figures show it made $360,000 in its first four weeks and is still holding at number 12. It made an average of $1400 a screen last week. For comparison, Tim Burton's latest movie, Frankenweenie, has much broader appeal but has only made $208,000 over the same period and has a screen average of just $608.
So, Killing Them Softly is making more than twice as much per screen as Frankenweenie. There is only one explanation for that - word of mouth. Brad Pitt with a big gun on the poster probably doesn't do any harm either.
Killing Them Softly is doing well because it is an entertaining, funny and punchy little film.
Brad Pitt is our protagonist. A man called in to clear up a mess that threatens the whole system. A hoodlum poker night has been robbed and word needs to get out that this will not be tolerated so confidence can return to the card table. It's not hard to relate the world of these small town crooks to the financial meltdown that provides the film's backdrop and beams out of every TV and radio like a Greek chorus.
But to restore confidence, Brad Pitt has to get his hands dirty.
It manages to be both tense and funny; entertaining yet meaningful; shocking and absurd. It's a smart little allegory that wears its subtext on its sleeve. It set is a bleak landscape where characters have to contort themselves into strange shapes just to keep late stage capitalism alive.
Litter and hollow political slogans swirl on the same breeze.
It's all that, but somehow manages the impossible feat of handling this subtext lightly. It is everything Argo is not. Instead of Ben Affleck trying to frown his way through solid beard at the seriosity of it all, we have Brad Pitt gently guiding us by the elbow through an absurd and meaningless world - killing us softly.
It is a film drenched in context and subtext. Scorched and scarred by world events like the streets of post-Katrina New Orleans where it is filmed.
It is a world populated with older characters showing the strain. They drive big old American cars. Cars from another era with sweat stained leather interiors and mismatched panels. Beat up cars for beat up characters in a beat up world.
Ray Liotta could not have been better cast. On the one hand he brings some metatextual heft to the table with Goodfellas in his back catalogue, on the other his face looks like it has done some mileage. It is a face that suits this film. He is the actor equivalent of a big old American car with leather seats. James Ganolfini is great as a hit man at the fag end of his years, drinking and whoring his sadness into submission. Brad Pitt holds it altogether as a smart man trapped in the hoodlum equivalent of middle management, dealing with idiots above him and idiots below.
It is also a beautifully directed film. Andrew Dominik is a New Zealand-born, but Australian-raised director. I wish we could claim him as our own, but I'm not sure we can. This is his third film after Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. That's quite a run. Three perfectly realised films in a row, each with their own texture and meaning. I can't wait for his next film, but on current form I may have to wait five years.
But, on current form, the wait will be worthwhile.
Have you seen Killing Them Softly? What did you think? What do you think of Andrew Dominik? What did you make of his Jesse James film? Can we claim him as a Kiwi? Can we?
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