Killing Them Softly, America and Donald Trump

Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly received mixed reviews upon its release in 2012 but the 97-minute gangster flick deserves reevaluation.

The rise of Trumpism shows the film’s cynicism about America and capitalism was ahead of its time, perhaps even prescient.

The plot is a thinly-veiled parable for the 2008 financial crisis — something Dominik was keen to drive home at every press interview.

The plot, such at is, sees an illegal gambling ring collapses due to a failure of regulation (it gets robbed). Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is brought in by the bosses to clear everything up and get the gambling — that is, the economy — moving again.

Brad Pitt is Jackie Cogan in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly

The film was criticised for its heavy-handedness in the political themes: almost every other scene is punctuated by a politician’s speech on the 2008 financial crash and it pointedly ends with Barack Obama’s 2008 victory speech.

The ending drives home the film’s key message. Jackie has cleaned house and is arguing with a middle-management type boss about his payment.

In the background Obama speaks about hope for the future:

Barack Obama delivers his victory speech in 2008

There’s a break in the conversation between Jackie and the boss (listed as Driver in the script, played by Richard Jenkins).

Driver: “You hear that line, that line’s for you”

Jackie’s response is withering: “Don’t make me laugh. We’re one people. It’s a myth created by Thomas Jefferson.”

Driver: “Oh, now you’re gonna have a go at Jefferson, huh?”


Written, produced and released slap-bang in the middle of Obama’s two terms, this world-weary, anti-America cynicism went down like a cup of cold sick. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare grade of “F” on an A+ to F scale.

Dominik was asked by Indiewire if he was worried the politics of the film would alienate viewers: “Not really. It’s kind of the idea of the movie.”

A screengrab from the beginning of the film

America is just a business, said Jackie, and four years after the film was released it elected a businessman to be president.

This ending statement, made almost directly at the camera, attracted a lot of interest at the Cannes Q&A after the premiere especially as it comes from the mouth of Hollywood icon Brad Pitt.

Dominik, who wrote the screenplay, chose to transpose George V Higgins’ novel from 1970s Boston to 2008 New Orleans (although the city is deliberately nondescript).

The political cynicism is written into the script

The Chopper director is making the point that this economic collapse felt by the criminal underbelly — a microcosm of the Great Recession — was simply part of being American.

The Australian native was asked about the political content of the film by popcorntaxi:

Dominik identifies with Jackie’s cynical view of America. Four years later cut-throat America had had enough of political platitudes and rhetoric about community. They elected Donald ‘America First’ Trump.

And Jackie predicted it. Fed up with the corporate mentality of his superiors he warns: “Christ sake, this country is fucked. I’m telling you, there’s a plague coming.”

Donald Trump on election night in 2016

Donald Trump is that plague. And much like Trump, the nondescript American city in Killing Them Softly does not care about truth, just about money.

Jackie knows that the operator of the card game was not involved in the robbery which caused the economic collapse. But he had robbed it before (an inside job) therefore he has to be offed, just to restore public confidence.

The truth doesn’t matter, just money.

Lives don’t matter, it’s all about the money. America is a business.

Look at Donald Trump itching to get the economy moving again despite 1000s of deaths from coronavirus (this weekend it reached 100,000 in the US).

As noted by Screenrant in a review from 2012:

There are even echoes of Trumpism with the language used to talk about women in Killing Them Softly.

The President of the United States has been accused of sexual misconduct by 25 women. One of those, Jessica Leeds, accused Trump of groping her on a flight in the 1970s.

His response: “Believe me, she would not be my first choice.”

Trump’s insinuation is that she was not attractive enough to assault.

An illegal card game is robbed — causing an economic collapse

There’s a line, albeit much harsher, in Killing Them Softly, said by one of the card-game robbers Russell: “These girls you see ‘em, okay, you probably wouldn’t want to rape them. But all the plumbing works just fine.”

Maybe the problem with Killing Them Softly is that it was released four years too soon.

Now in the midst of Trumpism the film’s cynicism feels just right.

Brad Pitt, also a producer, said in the Cannes Q&A:

Read the full first draft of the script here.

Further reading:



30-year-old journalist living in south east London trying my hand at some film writing as and when

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Tom Davidson

30-year-old journalist living in south east London trying my hand at some film writing as and when