Violet & Daisy Is Probably the Most Underrated Film of the Year

Violet-and-Daisy-Poster350Violet & Daisy is an almost perfect film. I say almost, because, let’s be honest – nothing is perfect, particularly movies. There are things to complain about when it comes to Geoffrey Fletcher’s film (his other credit of note is as the writer of Precious). I don’t care about those complaints. Nor do I, frankly, care much for the people making those complaints. Boring, they will yell! Pretentious! Nothing happens!

Phooey to that. Plenty happens in each frame of Violet & Daisy. The entire film is a complete subversion of everything we’ve come to expect from movies, while still remaining completely enjoyable.

To be fair, I understand why some will not like it. The film goes through such a range of genres and emotions that some will have a hard time keeping up, and yet others will simply keep hoping that the rest of the movie will be more like that one part they liked. The truth is, Violet & Daisy is not like itself at times. The opening chapter has the titular girls blast their way through a house in nurse costumes, executing their targets with precision and finesse. It’s almost ridiculous; these girls should both be knocked off their feet by the recoil of their hand-cannons alone, not to mention being killed by the numerous bullets flying in their direction. What it does establish, is that we aren’t meant to fear for their safety – this isn’t the level of discourse we should expect from the movie. While they do come in peril later in the film, blasting away their opposition is clearly not a problem here. The nun costumes are funny in themselves, while not being anything we haven’t seen before (Machete comes to mind). Indeed, that entire chapter calls to mind something Rodriguez might produce. Gleefully hyper-violent and fun, the sequence introduces us to these characters as action movie badasses. While the rest of the movie could work without that setup, this establishes the film as satire, as opposed to something that might be angling for an Oscar with an overly-serious performance of a pair of hired killers in an uncomfortable situation.

The uncomfortable situation is encountered along with James Gandolfini, who instantly establishes his character as an absolute sweetheart. He looks sad, and tired, and one can’t help but think of that given the actor’s recent death. As a performance we only got to see after the actor’s demise alone, it is wonderful. The man wants to die, and consequently he’s gone out and ripped off the right people to get that done. When the girls realize that their target is beyond willing to die, it all turns sour. Why is that? How can they bring themselves to do it now that they’ve talked to him, and inadvertently gotten to know him a bit? In a manner similar to Carnage, where the characters simply can’t seem to leave the farcical situation they’ve found  themselves in, the two girls here, Alexis Bledel and Saoirse Ronan, just can’t seem to finish their job and leave. Through the experience, we slowly begin to understand what drives the different characters, a bit of why they are the way they are. We begin to appreciate that much of what we had assumed about them is actually false; that their lives are not at all on the surface, where most other movies take place.

Now, yes, the movie is very violent, but those moments are there to present a contrast which gives the entire film the air of a VERY black comedy. And yes, for fans of action movies, this really isn’t one! It’s not sexy, or particularly exciting, despite being about a couple of female assassins. I, for one think that’s incredibly brave and awesome. The crossover of viewers, however, might be unfortunately small. You have to be one of those rare people that like movies, not specific just genres of movies, to appreciate this one. This, combined with the fact that the film’s clashing sensibilities make the film nearly unmarketable, will mean that you almost certainly won’t see, or won’t like this movie. Which is a shame, because I’ll say it again – in my view, it’s nearly perfect, and anybody serious about cinema will recognize that.

P.S. I’m very serious about that, and I therefore think the 22% Rotten Tomatoes score (meaning that 22 percent of critics gave the film a positive score) is a very sad reflection on the state of modern film criticism. Any generic, by-the-numbers movie that shows even a smidge of competence can expect high marks, but a movie that actually strives for originality is cut down. And then those same critics have the audacity to whine that the only movies we see released are remakes and sequels. For shame.

Killing Them Softly

So here’s the interesting thing about Killing Them Softly – it’s possibly the most intellectually demanding gangster film ever made. It certainly doesn’t take a genius-level political analyst to understand that the movie is about something other than the basic plot, as what seems like every scene has the tv or radio on in the background, littering the movie with references to politicians, and cementing it in the time leading up immediately to the 2008 presidential election in the United States. Many an audience member, however, may be at a loss as to what, precisely, the film is getting at.

The film revolves around the robbery of an illegal poker game, by a few men that think they will never be caught. The act sends the local illegal market into a screeching halt, as everyone becomes afraid to do business. In steps Brad Pitt, an unnamed enforcer who’s first act is simply and publicly disposing of the obvious perpetrator in the interest of appeasing the public. After this, he sets out to find and punish the true perpetrators, Vincent Curatola the mastermind, Ben Mendelsohn the junkie, and Scott McNairy, who’s not too bright, but a nice guy at heart. This retribution for their crimes against the established criminal order is precise, though not without setbacks – mostly in the form of inept employees, as most obviously personified by James Gandolfini – a hitman who, once sharp, has turned to alcohol and prostitutes, and is quickly disposed of by Pitt once he recognizes that.

The metaphor, which may actually be more obvious in synopsis than it was on the screen, best comes through in the relationship of Pitt’s character with Richard Jenkins, the representative of the “corporate model” of the organized crime in the city. The two hold regular meetings, mostly in cars, and while Jenkins has many reservations about the enforcer’s mode of operations, he ultimately lets the only man who seemingly knows what he’s doing take the reigns. In a final monologue, however, it is revealed that the market and the well-being of the organization he represents is the furthest thing from Pitt’s character’s mind, explaining that “America is business. Now [expletive deleted] pay me.” This, of course, is meant to represent the general cynicism of the financial institutions and the politicians in the aftermath of the economic crash.

All this is not very profound and could be seen as a very perfunctory analysis of the causes for the current economic climate. The value of the movie is, however, in the strength of it’s parable in illustrating, through the world of organized crime, today’s political realities. If nothing else, viewing onset of the crisis through this prism is a valuable thought experiment.

Do not be mislead into believing, based on the preceding description, that the film is dry, however. The movie is extremely visceral and bold at times, director Andrew Dominik alternating between concealing moments of brutality from the audience and showing every detail – from multiple angles, even. Even on the most basic level, it works as a thriller, if a somewhat oddly pedagogic and deliberately paced one.