Movie titles tread a fine line. They have to sufficiently capture the movie without giving away too much while providing both an intriguing and marketable moniker. In an innocuous cutaway gag in season 7 episode 12 of Family Guy, Peter Griffin comments on the joy and contrivances of hearing movie titles in the dialogue of the movies themselves. Often it’s perfectly reasonable, but sometimes there’s an interesting story lying beneath the surface. In this ongoing series, we intend to shed some light on these examples.
Killing Them Softly
In a year of Hobbits, Dark Knights and alcoholic secret agents it’s not really a surprise that some seminal films would be ignored by the general public. However, the complete critical and commercial overlooking of Andrew Dominik’s contemporary follow-up to The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford will have come as some surprise to many.
A masterclass in changing perspective, Killing Them Softly brings 1974 crime novel Cogan’s Trade into the (almost) present day with real style. While Psycho is famous for killing its lead and putting us in the shoes of a different character half way through, Killing Them Softly pulls it multiple times throughout, sometimes even in the middle of a scene.
Throughout the film we hear, in the background, coverage of Obama’s rise to power, with the characters ignoring it and going on with their violent lives. It is only at the film’s climax when (spoiler) Brad Pitt’s Cogan erupts into a tirade deconstructing America to its perceived core values. Given the sheer amount of Americana back patting at this years Oscars, it’s a very refreshing change.
Ah, They Said It: ‘I like to kill them softly’ enthuses Cogan. Despite being based on a novel, Dominik decided to change the name to a quote from the film, which brings together the overarching themes discussed above together.
Throughout the film each key player gets their own character defining scene. Cogan’s comes about halfway through where he explains his modus operandi; kill your targets from a distance. This is shown brilliantly in the various assassinations; while Cogan’s are clean, ‘soft’ and in a way beautiful, the amateur criminals’ efforts are scrappy and painful.
When shooting the scene, Dominik still hadn’t told Pitt of the title change, ensuring the line would be as casually spoken as possible, without any hint of over emphasis. This shows in the natural delivery in the film and probably led to Pitt having his own ‘Ah, I said it’ moment.
What are your thoughts on Killing Them Softly? Is there a film you’d like us to look at next for Ah, They Said It? Have your say in the comments below.