Killing Them Softly, it’s an art-house film at its core, but I wouldn’t go as far to call it an indie. It takes place in Boston where a card game with the mob gets busted by one competent guy (Frankie) and a less than competent man (Russell). With a Catch-22 setup, it’s struggling to prove the worth of the film’s mob but the visual and sonic elements in this political influenced carefully drawn out mob thriller is different than other movies in the mob and gangster drama nowadays.
The sound in this film plays a huge role while also blending carefully with its visual elements. The worldized sound makes up the bulk of sound within this movies diegesis world. At the beginning of the film after Russell and Frankie are done talking with Johnny (the man in charge of the setup), they meet outside. We see Russell walking across the street, with a dog he stole to sell later, to meet up with Frankie. Now, this could have been a pretty quick sequence, but director Andrew Dominik slowed down the scene so we could get a glimpse of the weak and ruined area their meeting in, the visual. It’s the worldized diegetic objective sound we hear from what seems like seagulls, a train, the walking of Russell’s dog, and the overall movement of characters gives us the feeling that we can’t purely get from visuals. If you were to close your eyes for this scene or for almost all the film for that matter, you could imagine this entire exchange in your head.
Another great scene like this is when Jackie (a hitman) and Mickey (a mobster/hitman) meet at a restaurant after Mickey got off the plane in New York. When they were seating, you can hear a woman laughing, soft piano music, and the shuffling of dishes in the background. All to create that visual feeling with sound that you could be in that restaurant with them sitting at a table behind them. Then there is a point in their exchange where everything in the background goes silent, and you’re only hearing their voices giving it a more subjective feel but also lending to a tonal timbre and soft intensity in their voices.
Overall the construction of meaning that sound plays in the film Killing Them Softly gives us a sense of the world they live in and the time of which they do business. It’s all just sad. The only moment in the film there is just a little happiness is when Russell and Frankie make it off with the money. The song “Life is just a bowl of cherries” starts playing during the car ride and drug scene but when Frankie realized that Russell screwed up we move to a darker song.
The cinematography within this film is great, but it’s what the overall sound design does to the viewer to feel immersed in the world of Killing Them Softly. It was when we didn’t even hear or realize the music switched, changed, or stopped that we know the sound designer did a fantastic job.
Edgar-Hunt, Robert, et al. The Language of Film. 2nd ed., Fairchild Books AVA, 2015.
Dominik, Andrew, director. Killing Them Softly. Performance by Brad Pitt, Sony, 2012.