Friday, November 30, 2012

Killing Them Softly Movie Review

Richard Jenkins and Brad Pitt (r) in Killing Them Softly

From our friends at DC Film Review...

And Behold a White Horse... Named Brad Pitt

I like Brad Pitt a lot. He’s a darn good actor, who’s not afraid to take chances; but every now and then, he likes to remind you that he’s Brad Pitt. In Killing Them Softly, director Andrew Dominik affords his star every luxury, as if to say “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls... Brad Pitt is cool.” The end result is a violent, wordy mix that borders the line between drama and boredom.

How else do you explain Pitt’s Jackie Coogan, a paid assassin who’s brought into New Orleans to sort out a jacked, mob-run card game while restoring order to its criminal underbelly? I’ll be the first to agree... Pitt is cool, but does he need Dominik (his director in the underrated and superb The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) to hammer it home with unabashed blatancy? Pitt’s character is introduced with Biblical reference ‘and behold a white horse...’ accompanied by Johnny Cash's “The Man Comes Around.” The only things missing on Pitt’s back were angel wings.

If Pitt’s Jackie were an angel, he’d be an angel of death... albeit one with a serious guilt trip. As in Dominik’s prior two films (he also made the Aussie cult classic Chopper with Eric Bana) Killing Them Softly is about killing and consequences (in no particular order.) Trouble is, I don’t buy it. Pitt’s character is a killer, whose actions speak louder than words. He says he likes to kill his victims softly and from a distance. So why is it that we only see him blowing guys’ heads off at close range? This movie is a lot simpler than it pretends to be... Cross the mob and you die. Everything else is just window dressing (and distracting at that.)

Jackie goes from investigator to facilitator to executioner in typical Pitt-like style. There’s no denying who’s the star of this show, and Pitt does little to dispel his “biggest name in Hollywood” moniker. His fellow cast members, which include James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins and Ray Liotta follow suit, but are supportive in nature. Liotta does deserves mention for taking a beating like nobody’s business (He vomits with the best of them!)

Though sporadic, the violence in Killing Them Softly is anything but soft. Dominik tends to have a fascination with depicting it in slow motion, which I find less compelling than showing it in real time. This is especially true when Jackie takes care of business in one sequence that borders on comical (how many times can you die in one scene?)

Where Dominik loses me is two-fold. First, there’s a repeating (ad nauseam) theme of government officials (Presidents Bush & Obama, as well as Treasury Secretary Paulson) forecasting economic doom that coincides with what’s going on in the movie. WTF? Is this really the place to make a supposedly clever political statement? I don’t think so.

Second, the parts of the film with the two losers who hold up the poker game... Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) are nothing short of ugly. These two put the low in low-lifes. I couldn’t find a single redeeming quality about either one of them, yet they’re given a lion’s share of screen time early on. How u doin’? How you doin’? Just wait until they get high together. Give me the gun... I’ll squeeze the trigger, if it means getting rid of them.

Dominik seems obsessed with relaying the grit and ugliness of the criminal element... a la The Sopranos, but without the charm, clever writing and humor. Killing Them Softly is downright depressing from beginning to end. Its only saving grace is Gandolfini’s Mickey who delivers the two best lines of the movie. ‘There’s no ass in the whole world like a young Jewish ass that’s hookin,’ and a put-down directed at Jackie, ‘I was drinking before you got out of your father’s c*ck.’

I expected more of Dominik in his third film. I’m sure there will be some folks out there who label it smart and/or insightful (substitutes for boring, if you ask me.) In fact, I nodded off for about 10 minutes somewhere in the middle. If you’re a fan of Pitt, you won’t be disappointed (at least in his performance.) Everything else... I’ve seen before (and better.)

Grade: C+