Killing Them Softly (Blu-ray) (2012)
|Year Of Production||2012|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Start Up||Ads Then Menu|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Andrew Dominik|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Unknown||English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Killing Them Softly is New Zealand director Andrew Dominik's second collaboration with Brad Pitt after The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). As Dominik says in this interview on the At The Movies website here, having Pitt as the lead actor and producer on your movie 'opens doors' for you in Hollywood. Which is just as well, because this film is an atypical gangster film, one that lacks consistent action and violence and promotes dialogue and metaphor. This, therefore, is a commendation to the creative choices of Brad Pitt, who has chosen to work with Dominik despite a lack of box-office success from his two American-backed films. But, when your debut feature is Chopper, starring Eric Bana, one can understand what Pitt saw in Dominik's work to want to make films with him.
Just as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was an atypical Western (a slow, psychoanalytical and historical epic), and thus failed to recoup its $US30 million budget (taking about half that, $US15 million), Killing Them Softly was also a box-office dud, but it did manage to make a profit, taking US$35 million against its much smaller $US15 million budget. However, it took about $US 7 million in its first weekend before dying due to 'word-of-mouth' reviews from audiences. So why did this occur?
Crime films are usually full of action, but this one contains just a few scenes of action; mostly there are long scenes of dialogue. There is some violence with one scene using incredible special effects and slow-motion and plenty of strong language which is synonymous with films such as Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction. Dominik spends more time exploring these down-and-out characters who are victims of their circumstances and ties this in with the 2008 global financial crisis and how it impacted America.
Critics, however, have been more kind to the film, especially praising the metaphoric connection to the dangers of capitalism and its impact on the individual. There is a lot of rhetoric here, mainly of speeches by George W. Bush and Barack Obama, which play diegetically, usually on television sets in bar scenes. Also, it's been noted that seasoned actors such as Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Sam Shepard and Ben Mendelsohn add 'gravitas' to the film. To appreciate why Andrew Dominik wrote and directed Killing Them Softly in an unconventional way for a gangster film, we need to reflect upon the source novel for the film, Cogan's Trade (the working title of Killing Them Softly) written in 1974 by lawyer and author, George V. Higgins. Robert Kitchin sums up the novel thus; Frankie and Russell, two young hoods, have recently been released from prison and immediately slip back into their old criminal ways. Johnny ‘Squirrel’ Amato thinks of himself as a bit of criminal mastermind – he conceives the plans; people like Frankie and Russell do the handiwork. The plan is to hold-up a high stakes card game which has some connected players, and to pin the blame on someone else. Jackie Cogan’s job is to keep the criminal underworld in order; punishing those that step out of line or pursue their own agenda without getting prior approval from the local godfathers. Amato’s plan is most executed without approval, which means Cogan needs to identify the perpetrators and settle a score. Cogan’s Trade is a relatively simple story consisting of just nineteen extended scenes. Each scene is largely conversational, with little in the way of action. Interestingly, Higgins simply drops the reader into conversations and then lets them try to work out what is happening – a bit like taking a seat on a bus and overhearing a conversation taking place between nearby passengers and trying to work out what is being discussed, the context, how threads intertwine, who they might be talking about, etc. It’s an interesting approach and for the most part works well. The only downside is that the dialogue often has little to do with the plot – it’s just everyday chat that works to give a portrait of the small number of characters. As a result, the style tends to work at the expense of the plot. I love dialogue driven stories, but it has to serve the plot. Personally I would have preferred some of the conversations to be trimmed back to the mostly relevant bits and a doubling of the number of scenes. Overall, an interesting and enjoyable read with first rate dialogue, but the plot falls a little short for my tastes.
George V. Higgins is famous for his 1970 novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, which was made into a film starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle in 1973. Both novels emphasise crime rather than criminals. There are also consistent themes such as linking main characters to cars and deaths occurring in cars. Andrew Dominik has been faithful to presenting Killing Them Softly in this way. Dominik has set the film in 2008 and tied in the global financial crisis to the economic circumstances of the film, but otherwise he has been faithful to the book, something which many modern-day film adaptations of books don't do.
Australian cinematographer Greig Fraser has followed Andrew Dominik's intention of shooting Killing Them Softly as an homage to 1970s gangster cinema films, especially Peter Yates' 1973 film adaptation of Higgins' novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (released by the Criterion Collection on Region 1 DVD in May, 2009).
The theatrical aspect ratio of Killing Them Softly is 2:35:1. Unbelievably, the Australian Blu-ray release has been cropped to 1:78:1. Why this has happened is open to speculation as the United States and United Kingdom Blu-ray releases are both faithful to the original aspect ratio.
Scenes are shot with distinct focus on some characters and the background presented as soft, which is intentional. Andrew Dominik and Greig Fraser also used Kodak's new 500T 5230 film stock, explaining the distinctive look of the overall image.
The colour scheme is muted and dull, much like the characters we meet in the film.
There is good shadow detail however, especially for night scenes. I appreciated the excellent stunt work and multiple-camera set-up required for some scenes also. These scenes look superb on Blu-ray.
Subtitles are provided in English, with colour schemes for dialogue linked to separate characters in each scene. This can take some getting used to for viewers.
The sound scheme is exceptional. Ellen Heuer, the Foley artist, deserves credit for incorporating unique sound effects which complement the action. Thomas O'Neil Younkman, the supervising sound editor, Jordan O'Neill, the sound consultant, A. Josh Reinhardt, the sound editor and Leslie Shatz, the sound mixer, did an amazing job in mixing the sound.
The main audio track is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track.
The dialogue is clear and synchronised throughout.
Music is minimal as there is a fair bit of dialogue here but Marc Streitenfeld, credited for musical ambiences and piano pieces, does a good job in supporting the sombre mood of the film. I also admired the creative decision to present musical pieces from within the film diegetically, usually played through car radios. The music here is quite eclectic, ranging from early 20th century jazz numbers to modern day pop.
The Surround Channel Usage is of the highest quality. We get to feel the rain and rustling of the wind across all the channels, yet sometimes sound is presented at a distance through one speaker only, depending on the action in each scene.
The Subwoofer supported the outstanding stunt work, usually involving cars and gunfire.
|Surround Channel Use|
There are no extras included whatsoever!
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
As mentioned, the Australian Blu-ray release contains no extras. The Region B United Kingdom release contains the following cast and crew interviews:
The Region A United States release has the best extras with a short featurette, "The Making of Killing Them Softly" (5:17) and four deleted scenes (9:51). A director's commentary would have been nice, and apparently the initial cut was 2 and a half hours long so more deleted scenes could have been presented. Also, it's disappointing there's no input for extras on the film from Brad Pitt.
With a running time approximately 5 minutes shorter than the theatrical release (92 minutes), a cropped image and no extras, it makes it difficult for me to recommend Killing Them Softly for purchase on Blu-ray. Which is a shame, because if you give this film a chance it's very well made by New Zealand screenwriter and director, Andrew Dominik. At best, rent this for viewing and get the American release instead.
|DVD||Sony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 020), using HDMI output|
|Display||Samsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Sony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.|
|Speakers||Sony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)|