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Johnny Cash (#110 of 3)

Cannes Film Festival 2012: Killing Them Softly

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Cannes Film Festival 2012: <em>Killing Them Softly</em>
Cannes Film Festival 2012: <em>Killing Them Softly</em>

George V. Higgins wrote downbeat Nixon-era crime novels like The Friends of Eddie Coyle (turned by director Peter Yates into a bleakly brilliant vehicle for an aging Robert Mitchum), pulp fictions full of toothy, profane dialogue and petty-criminal patois, with all the pitch-perfect accuracy of a court stenographer. Though its publication predated Watergate by several years, there’s something especially resonant for the times in its sad saga of busted dreams and quisling betrayals. Updating Higgins’s Cogan’s Trade for the new millennium, Andrew Dominik sets Killing Them Softly against the onset of the economic meltdown and the run-up to the 2008 election, a thread of radio reports and TV spots running through the film like a leitmotif, all the better to establish Killing Them Softly’s thematic core: “America isn’t a country, it’s a business.” Whether the cash gushes forth from subprime mortgages or high-stakes poker games, disruption to the status quo can’t be abided, and necessary measures will be taken to reestablish its steady flow.

The Jackpot Mentality

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The Jackpot Mentality
The Jackpot Mentality

I first saw Brooklyn filmmaker Bryan Wizemann’s debut feature Losing Ground at Cinequest last year and was struck by how uncompromised it was and how true it felt. Set entirely in a video poker bar in Las Vegas, it unfolds in real time, deftly sketching psychological portraits of some desperate but recognizable human types: a lovely but hard-living young woman named Michelle (Eileen O’Connell) who hopes a jackpot can save her, at least temporarily, from having to sell her body to pay the bills; a speed freak (Monique Vukovic) who’s trying to rebuild her relationship with her estranged adult son by sending him gambling earnings; a pissed-off young man (Matthew Mark Meyer) who lost $3000 in the bar the night before, and his new girlfriend (Rhonda Keyser), who unfortunately used to date the bartender (Kendall Pigg), a booze-dispensing diplomat whose patience for bad behavior is not limitless. These characters barely have a chance to find a barroom rhythm when they’re rattled by a new arrival, a magnetic loner in a ten-gallon hat (played by John Good with a mix of genial confidence and faint but palpable menace) who proceeds to have good luck with the same machine that ate the sore loser’s money.