"America’s not a country, it’s just a business. Now fucking pay me!" Jackie Cogan’s last line from Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly is as powerful as anything in modern American cinema. It cuts the film dead, pulling the multi-cultural rug firmly out from under Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential victory speech. He’s immune from the bullshit-America will just go on fucking everybody over not matter how well intentioned the new president is.
Up until the end of the film Jackie is an amiable killer whose code informs the title. He likes to kill from a distance, “Kill them softly” so his work never gets too, “Touchy-feely”. When asked by the mob’s middle-manager, Driver what he means, Jackie explains, “Emotional, not fun, a lot of fuss. They cry. They plead. They beg. They piss themselves. They call for their mothers. It gets embarrassing.”
"Softly" to Jackie means blowing their brains out through a car window or butchering them with a 12 gauge. He’s a contradiction but then again so is America. This is a business that arms friends and enemies alike, pushes democracy abroad but only if the outcome is in their favour. America calls the shots, stacks the odds like in Markie Trottman’s mob protected card game.
Jean-Luc Godard knew that, “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.” All Pitt needs is a leather jacket and a cool pair of shades. His Jackie guides us through the complex roots of how men are whacked by other men on the say so of faceless bureaucrats. In this case three losers who decide to knock over Trottman’s game are marked. Predictably Jackie figures that Markie should “go” too to get the illegal games up and running again thus stimulating the mob’s economy.
Dominik’s movie is dominated by the financial crisis of 2008, George Bush’s last hurrah trying to save his ever diminishing legacy and Obama’s historic presidential win. It seeps out of television sets and blares out of car radios. It may be a heavy handed message but back then you couldn’t escape it, the news dragged you down like a pair of concrete boots on a banker struggling desperately to keep afloat.
We’re in terrific company throughout; James Gandolfini as New York Mickey an even more embittered version of Tony Soprano, Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendolsohn are the stick-up kids doomed from the outset, Ray Liotta’s Markie is a loveable buffoon, Richard Jenkins as Driver is spruce and efficient but Pitt’s Jackie flits from sociable drinking buddy to ruthless assassin with terrifying ease. He may never have been better.
Why do we hate lawyers so much? Their huge fees? The designer suits? That luxurious condo? Or is it their whining, snivelling, desperate attempts to dispose of dead female bodies in the middle of the night? You know the type, the shifty hotshot that’s dating the boss’s daughter and schmoozing every cocktail waitress he can behind her back. Yep, the guy who’ll chop up a one-night-stand even if he’s innocent, rather than trust the American justice system to play it straight.
Meet Harley. He’s no Davidson but he has a voice like a shrill motorbike engine that’s heading for a crash. He ticks all the boxes above, a sleazy little rodent who’s getting married to Sophie and by proxy to her father’s law firm. Still Harley’s a playa baby, rocking it at a strip joint the night before a crucial boardroom meeting with his future father-in-law. The camera’s drunk like a rap video, tits and ass and too many shots. G-strings bulge and Harley blacks out.
Hangovers on a school night are the worst kind but poor old Harley has a murdered stripper in his shower too. He’s pretty sure he didn’t kill her but those Jagermeister’s make total recall a total headache. It’s a grisly set-up, a moral conundrum that’ll test his scumbag conscience. The stripper’s dead eyes regard him coldly but Harley’s colder; he doesn’t even have the humanity to close them for her. He fumbles with a half-assed 911 call and hits up his pals, which include cut price Jamie Foxx and Benicio Del Toro lookalikes for some cod advice.
To make matters worse Harley’s got an over inquisitive concierge Rommel Stanton. Rommel’s got one of those piercing stares and a Hitler hair-do that helps make the elevators run on time. He knows exactly when you left and when you came home, a jealous girlfriend in case you didn’t have one already. Rommel is creepy and creaky, appearing out of stairwells when you least expect him. Yet for all of his Eastern European efficiency he still doesn’t notice the missing detective who calls Harley for an interview downtown.
Blackout should have been played with pitch-black heart. Harley’s predicament has a proven track record in The Trouble With Harry and even Les Diaboliques and a smarter riff on a later plot twist could have turned this low budget effort into a minor cult-classic. Imagine the bodies piling up quicker than that weasel Harley could dispose of them! Instead this smart looking film becomes bogged down in a badly (presumably rushed) constructed motif for framing the hapless Harley.
Twin gynaecologists, Elliot and Beverly Mantle are interior creatures. They swim, shark, snake around their cold, austere world, an aquarium to their genius, and their clinical guard against reality. Both feast upon the insecurities of the women they treat, Elliot the suave predator testing the sexual current before tossing the circumspect Beverly his female chum line of used body parts.
The Mantles behave like a breed apart, an alien race rinsing a single soul around the skin of two bodies. Elliot is the money, the panache, and the razzmatazz, “I’ve often thought there should be beauty contests for the insides of bodies.” Beverly is the research, the graft, the real genius, “I slave over the hot snatches.” This duplicitous, amorphous creature can read the insides of a woman like organic Braille, the gift of life not always theirs to give but with brutally scientific reason theirs to devour for all time.
When Claire, an actress addicted to a cocktail cabinet of prescription drugs descends into their lives, the twins slowly unravel. Elliot ensnares her first and quickly tires of her, “I’m not into art. I’m into glamour.” Her beauty captivates Beverly, secretly he marvels at her ability to self-medicate; alter her moods at will, a chemical distraction from her infertility. Beverly gradually slips away from Elliot into a vortex of pills his own hideous addiction to Claire.
Elliot and Beverly wrestle for control over their communal soul, a theological and philosophical battle that becomes physically debilitating for both of them. When Beverly tries to detox but threatens to take a downer, Elliot compensates by taking an upper to counter his addiction. Throughout Cronenberg’s film their personalities become, blurred, entwined or just down right confused, twin doppelgangers, impersonations of impersonations.
Towards the climax when their paranoia is all consuming the imagery is horrific. Beverly tries to operate with instruments specially constructed for “mutant” women that look like dissected parts of the facehugger from “Alien.” “There’s nothing wrong with the instrument, it’s the body. The woman’s body is all wrong!” His operating theatre is a macabre affair; a torture chamber presided over by the Spanish Inquisition, a three-way dance between the twins and a colleague a menagerie of limbs.
“Dead Ringers” is a tumultuous descent into the madness of self-discovery. Cronenberg’s extrinsic body horror of “The Fly” is sucked into the unseen crevices of the flesh. Jeremy Irons totally inhabits both Elliot and Beverly, stitching their existential fear all over their bodies and minds. Irons performance is a tour-de-force of exasperation and terror, ingenious cunning, hypnotising the audience time and time again. As Beverly says, “Separation can be a…terrifying thing.”
1. Daniel Day-Lewis
Leader of the Brit-Pack in the 80s and the only man to win 3 Best Actor Oscars, Day-Lewis is the greatest actor of his generation and in my not very humble opinion, of all time.
What Caine did for the representation of working-class actors cannot be overestimated. For me he is the complete hero, always bringing something to every movie he is in. Let’s face it, a film with Caine in is superior to any film he isn’t.
Overshadowed by his contemporary Day-Lewis, nevertheless Oldman is a living legend. Go-to villain, lunatic and now a second career defining role as George Smiley (Bex in The Firm is his first) Oldman was cruelly denied an Oscar. I worshiped this man growing up.
The successor to Daniel Day-Lewis and my favourite actor of his generation, Fassbender is relentless in his attention to detail. The only actor I will see a movie for regardless of director-I haven’t been excited about an actor like this since I discovered Oldman.
Dear old Larry simply exudes class. He is the benchmark by which all other British actors must measure themselves.
This picture says it all.
An acting juggernaut of a man that can do low grade sleaze as effortlessly as upperclass charm. Is he the next James Bond?
A complete joy to watch at all times.
Desert Fox or Humbert Humbert, Mason could be suave and sinister all wrapped up into one uneasy package.
You may laugh but I love his ugly mug. Dyer gets a bad press but I’ll watch him in anything. If he’s good enough for Harold Pinter then he’s good enough for me.
“Heroin is so passé” but the old warhorse of hard drugs has been resurrected along with another 80s cultural phenomenon, the Evil Dead. Mia wants to go cold turkey in a rotting cabin. Eric, Olivia, her estranged brother David and his girlfriend Natalie guard her. Mia force-feeds her remaining junk to the well Onibaba style and all hell is regurgitated.
Olivia is the sex-bomb nurse charged with administering Mia’s sedatives. She’s a draconian matron who will do everything to keep her charge from flying the coop. As Mia starts to freak out Olivia urges the friends do everything they can to keep her in that desolate place. It’s a neat set-up that keeps the prey in such a murderous environment.
When they find a book bound with barded wire in the cellar, surrounded by the rotting, stinking corpses of cats, Eric does what every self respecting Jesus haired geek would do-open it and read the words despite the desperate scratched writing warning him otherwise. That old camera shot rockets through the woods like a bad memory and this time minus Raimi’s sick sense of humour.
One by one the friends are possessed and Evil Dead becomes an endurance test of hacked meat, spraying blood and incestuous profanity. There is a sadistic pleasure in trying to spot how iconic moments from the original are twisted to fit in with modern horror sensibilities. Nail gun crucifixions and Mia’s rape by spidery trees are horrific as the abomination conjured by Eric’s stupidity throttles the audience into submission.
Strangely as the film becomes more visceral the grubby scares of the opening act subside. Early on there is a desperate feel of unease that infects the film, creeping up the backs of the audience, scratching at their peripheral vision. Once the decomposed cat is out of the bag Evil Dead is awash with blood that literally rains from the sky. No bad thing but blood washes off. Real evil doesn’t.
“Our father’s have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities.” The Place Beyond The Pines is an elegiac lament for absent fathers, for their frailties, for their fall from godhood. The title suggests a Lynchian quality, primordial darkness reaching out to massage the male ego, to snatch away happiness, to incite dismal failure. Require death.
Luke has a Cool Hand, a daredevil stunt rider, itinerant, irrelevant. His skill with a butterfly knife is unsurpassed, his tattoos tell of a wasted life in ink, a moth bitten Eminem. The camera hangs on his back like an eager cornerman following his fighter into the ring. Luke’s crowd love him, all 80 of them. His motorbike is his life, that most selfish of vehicles.
He barely remembers Romina’s name, she being another of his conquests a year ago. Romina has a memento of their time together-a son called Jason. Hidden away between the pines Jason is an American myth, raised by his mother, grandmother and modern day centaur, Kofi. Luke is sideswiped by his paternal instincts, unsure how to enter his son’s life he scratches at the sides, jealous and incapable.
Impulsive, he quits the stunt game and makes minimum wage for a local mechanic, Robin. Robin has that ferret quality, black nails and oil soaked skin, a scheme to make a fast buck using Luke’s particular “Skill set.” These twin loners are bereft of ideas when it comes to fatherhood. They are emotionally stunted, masculinity bred from TV dinners and late night movies. Luke and Robin rob banks so that Luke can win the affections of his newfound family.
Out to stop them is clean cut Avery, a rich kid slumming it as a cop. His father was a judge, a political animal trying to pull his son’s strings. Luke and Avery’s duel is as exhilarating as anything else in film, a chase that has repercussions 15 years later. Avery has a young son too, AJ who he finds it difficult to bond with. Here The Place Beyond The Pines enters the realms of Greek mythology, the great American novel made celluloid.
Their sons rekindle Luke and Avery’s feud as they battle to fly from beneath the shadows of repression. Jason is a wiry, sensitive DiCaprio back when he was shooting up junk in The Basketball Diaries. AJ is a wannabe Sopranos character, and an obnoxious bully mixing his metaphors with The Wu-Tang Clan. Their story is an epic tale that will continue long after this mesmerising, hypnotic film has drifted into the sunset and dissolved into legend, The Place Beyond The Pines.