Sure, it’s only fiction and Hollywood fiction at that, but the movie, Killing Them Softly, provides a deft portrayal of the Persuasion Rules in action – gory, violent, slow motion – action. If you can handle that, then the movie gives a great exemplar of persuasion that is beyond good and evil!
Brad Pitt plays Jackie, a mob hit man, brought in to solve a both an image problem and a practical problem. A mob-sponsored, high-stakes poker game has been robbed at gunpoint . . .
. . . twice. To restore faith and confidence in the mob’s ability to run a card game, Jackie arrives. See immediately the persuasion strategy here: the mob looks bad and needs to move decisively to restore the brand. Now, how do you accomplish this?
You bring justice to the evil-doers or the evil-doers to justice which – given the mob Local – means you hit the TACT with violence. Ahh, the confluence of persuasion and power with the benefits of their proper combination and the sorrows of one’s corruption to the other. We see both Rules.
First, we see how Power Corrupts Persuasion when the mob decides (against Jackie’s analysis) to first beat up a bad guy, Markie, before they kill him later. Jackie knows that Markie must die for obvious credibility reasons alone much less Markie’s bad behavior, so why rough him up if you’re gonna kill him anyway? Thus, Jackie resists the corruption of power while the mob surrenders to it. The mob excessively flexes its muscle, twice, in a nervous display of power while Jackie would deploy it just once, but decisively.
Later, we see Jackie employ persuasion and power to their mutual benefit when he uses the threat of death against Frankie, a poker game thief, to persuade Frankie to rat out another guy, Squirrel, involved in the poker game robbery. And, it is in Jackie’s use of power and persuasion that we see the Choice Persuasion Play. Jackie offers Frankie two choices: rat out Squirrel or I kill you. Of course, Jackie is lying about the choices. He’s gonna kill Frankie regardless, but if he can persuade Frankie to give up Squirrel, then Jackie’s job is a lot easier. So, persuade Frankie that he’s got a choice and Jackie gets two for one.
Whenever someone offers you choices, the first effect – even with a huge list of options – is of limitation. The guy delivering the choices is always cutting something out. That’s why you always have more choices than you think. If you don’t know this, you’re letting that guy determine your fate already.
You see the punishing effects of missing this lesson when Jackie confronts Frankie in a bar and gives him two choices: rat out Squirrel for a hit or die. Frankie holds out, but only briefly, falling victim to the Rule, All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere. Jackie smells the sincerity and begins to exit the bar, removing Frankie’s chance to rat out Squirrel which means now that only option 2 is in effect for Frankie.
Frankie collapses and never realizes that other choices exist like fighting Jackie right now or running away or calling for the cops or playing along to find a chance to escape or trying to get help from somebody else. When the Other Guy misses the choices that are not on the list, then you’ve persuaded! Frankie calls Jackie back to the bar and rats out Squirrel while also assuring his own murder, but without awareness. You Can Get Farther with a Kind Word and a Big Stick Than with Either Alone.
Now, the reason that Jackie had this conversation with Frankie is because another hit man, Mickey, won’t do the job. Jackie had recommended Mickey do the work for the mob and had him flown in special for the job. The two old friends meet and have a drink to discuss old times and new persuasion opportunities.
Jackie slowly realizes that his old hit man friend has lost his nerve and talent for killing. At first he thinks he can persuade Mickey to do the job and he hits Mickey with Central Route arguments – give up booze, avoid hookers, get a good sleep – when Jackie realizes that Mickey is beyond persuasion. So Jackie stops trying to close him. See the combination of two Rules: Never Always Be Closing and If You Can’t Succeed, Don’t Try.
Jackie then designs a setup to trap Mickey in a simple plot involving Mickey’s weakness for prostitutes. Mickey will exit the plot and enter prison without knowing Jackie put him there. There’s a Difference between Persuasion, and Smoke and Mirrors; With Persuasion the Illusion Lingers.
Now, listen carefully, and hear Jackie employ a recurring line. The people he meets almost never know him and have never heard of him even though he looks like they do: Criminal. In the face of their puzzlement, Jackie responds,
“I am just a guy. Very few people know me.”
Anyone who believes this falls victim to the Rule: Persuaders Can Either Be Famous or Effective, But Not Both. When a guy like Jackie has your complete attention, but you don’t know who he is, you might remember this Rule. You may be in the presence of a persuasion master. His gun is not your largest concern.
Take Jackie’s persuasion whole and you see a clear demonstration of his excellence. Jackie always hits the TACT with the available resources and no one is the wiser. Great Persuaders Don’t Need Rich Uncles, Kindness from Strangers, or Third Party Vote Splitters.
Jackie exemplifies my extension to Professor Nietzsche: Persuasion is beyond good and evil. Jackie never betrays an ounce, a hint, a whisper of concern for good or evil, only the strategy and then the Boxes and Plays to make it happen. He is one of the best exemplifications of persuasion theory ever filmed.
P.S. Killing Them Softly is a tricky movie. The violence generates enormous tension and obscures the fact that this is a character show and that the plot flows out of character. Some critics get philosophical about various elements of the movie, notably the recurring background of quotes from politicians during the 2008 Presidential election. This is a show about guys and how life happens to them and, for some, how they make life happen for them. The biggest artistic weakness is that no one learns. No one.
P.P.S. Once again we see how fiction prefers persuasion with its bad guys. Jeepers, simply because you are beyond good and evil doesn’t make you bad!