They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not plagued like other people.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them like a garment.
Their eyes swell out with fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against heaven,
and their tongues range over the earth.
Writer director Andrew Dominik’s overly violent tale set in post-Katrina New Orleans shows the impact of the
great recession upon a group of criminals. Based on George V. Higgins novel, it is set in Boston in 1974, but
by moving the action to 2008 the filmmakers allow the characters to comment on recent politics and mores. Brad Pitt is memorable as a hitman brought in to track down and kill the bottom feeders who dared to rob a mob-sponsored weekly card game. As he hears Senator Obama, Pres. Bush, and others speak over TV sets in bars, Pitt’ s character often ruminates about America as a country in which all are out only for themselves.
Jackie Cogan (Pitt) brings in Mickey (James Gandolfini) from New York to assist in the killings. However, it soon becomes apparent that Mickey is too addicted to alcohol and cheap sex to be of much help. The wonderful Richard Jenkins plays Driver, the well-dressed lawyer who serves as the go-between for Jackie and the mob boss. Ray Liotta is Markie Trattman, the host for the card games. Because he foolishly admitted during an indiscrete moment that he had once robbed his own card game, he is under suspision. Though some doubt that he would be so dumb as to try it again, it does not matter to Jackie, as long as he is paid. He figures that he will have to do away with the guy regardless of his guilt or innocence. The film’s title comes from Jackie’s preferred mode of killing. He says that he doesn’t like it when a target pleads for his life and “cry for their mothers. It gets embarrassing. I like to kill ‘em softly. From a distance.”
As Jackie sits in various bars he sees and hears televised speeches by Barack Obama, John McCain and George W. Bush in the background. (These must be more sophisticated than the bars whose sets usually are tuned to ESPN games.) He and Driver catch part of Barack Obama’s speech with its lines, “…to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one…” Driver says, “You hear that line? Line’s for you.” Jackie responds, “Don’t make me laugh. One people. It’s a myth created by Thomas Jefferson.” “Oh, so now you’re going to have a go at Jefferson, huh?” This launches Jackie into a rant, “My friend, Thomas Jefferson is an American saint because he wrote the words ‘All men are created equal’, words he clearly didn’t believe since he allowed his own children to live in slavery. He’s a rich white snob who’s sick of paying taxes to the Brits. So, yeah, he writes some lovely words and aroused the rabble and they went and died for those words while he sat back and drank his wine and f—d his slave girl. This guy wants to tell me we’re living in a community? Don’t make me laugh. I’m living in America, and in America you’re on your own. America’s not a country. It’s just a business…”
The story moves far beyond the old days of Hollywood when the Code was enforced so that movies about gangsters always preached that “crime does not pay,” even though the crooks played by James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and Edward G. Robinson had a high ole time before the law caught up with them in the last reel. The psalmist, who at first almost envies the wicked, describes most of the film’s characters—though not the three hapless robbers Jackie is searching for. They are definitely headed for trouble!
This film will not be for everyone, but those who are drawn to the noir genre with its dark view of human nature will find much of interest in this film. Although I have no intention of coming up with a set of questions, film fans could have a good time discussing Jackie’s speech above. What do they think of the American myth that “out of many, we are one? Compare Jackie’s claim that America is “just a business” with other crime films, especially the Godfather series.