Is killing them gently a true story? Is the film based on real life?
“Killing Them Softly” isn’t your everyday crime thriller – this movie has a lot going on. Written and directed by Andrew Dominik based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by George V. Higgins, “Killing Them Softly” is a neo-noir crime thriller that knows its underworld characters quite well. Gangsters, drugs, money, violence – these notions seem to be woven into the rhetoric of the crime film genre, a genre that is unmistakably American in essence. While this film is about violence, it has a bigger message to the world.
The story revolves around a money theft organized by a group of petty crooks, which goes horribly wrong. Set against the backdrop of the 2008 economic recession, this film is visibly resentful of society and its mundane promises of equality. As a result, the reaction from critics and the public was understandably polarized. While some could read the message, others weren’t sure how to feel it. You might be wondering, after watching the movie in its entirety, if the story relates to reality. If you’re skeptical of the movie’s truth claims, let’s get to the bottom of it.
Is Killing Them Softly based on a true story?
No, ‘Killing Them Softly’ is not based on a true story. The story itself is fictional and fairly straightforward – amateur criminals think they can cheat the big guns, but those who run the business know it better. In the meantime, another guy has to take the fall, just for the fun of it. But amateurs must also pay for their act. A hitman asshole, Jackie Cogan, descends into New Orleans’ criminal landscape to settle scores. It is not a hero who would gain the adoration of the public by high speeches, far from it moreover.
The screenplay is written by the director himself, who based the story on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by American author and lawyer George V. Higgins. The 1974 novel is set in Boston, but the director chose to readapt the story to contemporary times, transporting it to New Orleans. From “The Departed” by Martin Scorsese to “Edge of Darkness” by Martin Campbell, many crime thrillers take place in Boston. The director felt that the “Boston crime thriller” had become his own identifiable subgenre, and he chose to steer clear of it.
Moreover, the format of the film seems quite stripped down. Most executives capture the expressions of the characters when speaking their lines. The director was watching a few wacky comedies from the era, which influenced his coverage of the film. Zany comedy is a subgenre of romantic comedies that has a lot in common with film noir.
Films like this would be conceived as a love story diluted in farce, with a hidden motive for class conflict. Goofy comedies attempted to comment on social issues when the genre’s first priority was to entertain audiences. The director drew part of the essence of the sub-genre from his film, as in Mickey’s debauchery comedy. Additionally, the film’s tone is somewhat inspired by the cynicism of Stanley Kubrick’s cult and classic black comedy, ‘Dr. Strange love. ‘
Money is the guiding principle of the film and of the global capitalized society as a whole. Dominik was also inspired by the 1969 documentary “Salesman” directed by David Maysles, Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin. The door-to-door bible seller’s desperation is cathartic in many ways, and Dominik has chosen to imbue the spirit of his film. The movie sounds and looks angry, and the last fit of frustration comes out of Jackie’s mouth in the penultimate moments.
Part of the anger was the director’s. His previous film, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Cowardly Robert Ford”, where he teamed up with Brad Pitt for the first time, had been poorly received overall at the time. Many were concerned about the cost of the film and its profitability at the box office. The director was quite put off by how money dictated the country and the movie industry as a whole.
Therefore, he took Jackie Cogan out of the ’70s and set it against the backdrop of the 2008 economic recession, the bank bailout and Obama’s presidential race. The book is about economics a lot, and Dominik thought it appropriate to situate it in the Americana fiscal conundrum of 2008. It was undoubtedly a volatile period in the nation’s history, and the film purposely acquires a cynical world ethic to probe the erratic reality of the nation – a nation seemingly torn apart by money, greed, and violence.
Read more: Will a Killing Them Softly sequel ever be made?