MMI: Killing Them Softly
There are three types of people.
1. People who don't get Killing Them Softly
2. People who think Killing Them Softly is a superficial look at 21st Century capitalistic Americana. You get comments like this (taken from an Amazon review by Ray Campbell (he gave the movie 2 stars)):
With maybe one more draft tightening up the story, this could have been a nice little picture. You can't complain about the cast - Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, all doing what they were hired to do. The story, however, just isn't quite there. The attempt to interweave the 2008 economic collapse with criminals looting and whacking each other could have been developed into something interesting, but instead it just sits there, an adolescent distraction. The characters and the plot line are all very one dimensional, and don't really spark off each other in any interesting ways. I watched it on an airplane, which is about the only way I would have bothered to sit through it until the end.
3. People who understand Killing Them Softly is actually a parable, a recreation of the economic crisis.
Have you ever seen a gangster genre done as a fairy tale? I hadn't, until KTS came out.
Andrew Dominik's film is the smartest and most nuanced film I saw all year. But it doesn't explain itself. Which means it's also one of the least accesible movies of the year. Total opposite of Life of Pi and Lincoln. Those are movies with little depth that attempt to make their point infinitely accessible. If Pi wanted depth, it wouldn't use a frame narrative. Or a narrator. It would have a linear progression. We'd see Pi's childhood and the build-up to the zoo getting sold (20 min). We'd have the time on the boat then, but see the version with people (not animals). It's pretty brutal and sad. This takes about 40 min. Pi survives. We see 10-15 min of Pi getting his life together. Then we see Pi tell someone the story, except this time he tells the animal version. We flashback and see this version play out. It takes about 30 min (and is beautiful). We then have 5 min montage of Pi progressing through years of his life: meeting his wife, getting married, having kids, etc. etc. Except these life milestones are interspersed with snippets of Pi telling random people his story, and he's always telling the animal version. "And then Richard Parker..." "Richard Parker and I..." "The hyena approached the zebra..." We see Pi with his family. His kids, teenagers now, ask him to tell them the story. The movie ends.
What do I mean Killing Them is a recreation of the financial crisis? I mean: everyone in the movie represents a player in the crisis. Like Ray Liotta's character represents the banks that started the whole mess (like Lehmen Brothers). Richard Jenkins is obviously the American Government. Squirrel and Frankie and Russell are the people who tried to capitalize off the subprime mortgage stuff and had it blow up on them. Etc. etc. etc.
Knowing this, the movie takes on Mariana's Trench-level depth. It's not just Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini talking. It's the American Spirit interacting with The People Who Are Supposed To Help Fix Things/The People Affected By the Crisis. Except the People Who Are Supposed To Help Fix Things are broken. What commentary then is Andrew Dominik making on that time period, on the people who were affected by the crisis? Viewing Brad Pitt's character as "The American Spirit" leads to how much depth? First he's replacing "Dillon". Which means this is the new spirit. And he rises to the top. That final speech so many people think is cheesy or too on-point is, to me, AMAZING, when you consider it as the declaration of this new spirit, as a reflection of the people who survived the crisis and will build America back up. There's nothing wrong with DOING GOOD WORK and wanting to get paid for it. The problem is when people are trying to cheat and scam. It's a beautiful declaration, every bit as powerful as Whitman's "I celebrate myself".
Whitman has in the final section of his Song of Myself:
"I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."
Killing Them Softly is the best movie of 2012 because it dares to translate. It alchemizes something real and ugly into cinematic poetry.
Cinema Beans: Tabu
It seems fitting that Tabu snuck into my #1 spot right as 2012 came to a close. Before Tabu, I had meandered around The Comedy, The Day He Arrives, and Las Acacias, trying to assign some sort of theme to 2012 as a whole. From the rebellious This is not a Film, to the generation defining The Color Wheel, to the glistening waxed chests of Magic Mike, 2012 seemed, more than anything, to be about prodding the system. But while these films are provocative on their own terms--whether it's a cry against censorship, professional pressures, or generational expectations--there didn't seem to be a single idea to attach to 2012. It was a wildly impressive and random year, full of directors marking their marks for the first time, and established directors legitimately making career-defining (and genre-defining) films.
And then came Tabu. Seriously: out of fucking nowhere.
Black and white, yet brimming with personality. Quiet, yet loud as hell. Objective, yet suffocatingly intrusive. Wide open, yet binding and constricting. A menacing crocodile is its center piece of imagery, yet its relation to Aurora couldn't be more sobering.
In what was an insanely political year for film, Tabu provoked in a way that was practically absent from 2012: through the simple use of juxtaposition, director Miguel Gomes crafted a halved tale that challenged me by simply challenging film itself. One half of the film contains a directionless onslaught of lost individuals searching for answers--the second half, stripped of any dialogue outside of Ventura's narration, puts the power of storytelling on display, denying those answers and focusing on the pure power of the moment. It's fitting that we witness Ventura's tale firsthand while Pilar listens, as she spends the film's first half sitting in movie theaters, searching for semblance during a short film featuring yet another treacherous crocodile. Seemingly doing little work at all, Gomes has actually constructed a tale with a head-spinning amount of juxtaposition, power plays, and storytelling techniques, all of which challenge the structure, aura, and traditional storytelling aspects of film as a whole.
So while Jafar Panahi was attacking the Iranian government head-on with his incredibly tragic self-portrait; or while Alex Ross Perry was capturing the troubles of a generation by making a brother and sister kiss; or while Rick Alverson was revealing the shield of irony often used to protect oneself from societal pressures, Miguel Gomes was simply constructing something that felt entirely new, yet strangely familiar. Slithering in like a crocodile on the prowl, Tabu suddenly became the only 2012 film that felt truly timeless and untouchable.