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Poster Lab: Killing Them Softly

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Poster Lab: <em>Killing Them Softly</em>

You really can’t miss the irony in the Killing Them Softly poster designs, as both of them are about as soft as a shell casing. Be it the graphic of a loaded pistol pointing in your face, or the ultra-loud placement of sans serif font atop Brad Pitt’s shotgun wielder, this ad campaign aims to hit you hard, just in case that title was at all misleading. Released to coincide with Killing Them Softly’s premiere at Cannes, where the crime drama lost the Palme d’Or to Michael Haneke’s Amour, the first poster looks a whole lot like the front of a trendy T-shirt, and not just because of the flag fabric in that sunglasses silhouette. If not for the title, one would be forgiven for thinking this was a glimpse at H&M’s fall line, its flipped stars and stripes all set to grace the rack alongside screen-prints of neon monsters. It’s a groovy design, for sure, and its adherence to just a few badass elements ably communicates the no-nonsense cool the film is clearly after. Again, it’s decidedly tough stuff, an amalgam of three very masculine bits of “USA!” iconography: the flag, the gun, and the aviator sunglasses. That the whole image calls to mind a certain bandana-rocking, great American train robber is mere gravy.

Based on George V. Higgins’s 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade (not to be confused with Logan’s Run or Hogan’s Heroes), Killing Them Softly looks to be one very manly affair, with an all-male leading cast that includes such gruff icons as James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Sam Shepard, and Animal Kingdom’s Ben Mendelsohn. But the star of the show is surely Pitt, who continues to find apt material for his increasingly craggy features, and reunites with writer/director Andrew Dominik, the man behind The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The Weinstein Company may have been content to show up at Cannes with a nifty, faceless one-sheet, but it’s not about to sell the film stateside without its golden boy front and center, hence the newer ad. Pitt’s name is ultra-prominent in both posters, but in Version 2.0 he’s present in the flesh, complete with a slicked-back coif and some single-barrel heat. With the black negative space and markedly blunt attitude present in both images, the pair seems to beg the question: Which is tougher—Pitt with a gun, or a rugged gun graphic?

Turns out there’s a tad more irony to be found in the Pitt-emblazoned design, whose lower-case Helvetica looks familiar for a reason. Indeed, this is the go-to font for countless bits of signage, but haven’t we seen this specific layout someplace else before? Ah, yes—in straight-shooter David Brent’s office.