Killing Them Softly Movie Review

Murder, mayhem, mobsters and… talking.  Lots of talking.  Perhaps I’m over-simplifying writer/director Andrew Dominik’s new film KILLING THEM SOFTLY and his ambitious vision to parallel American politics with the leadership of the mob.  But it is important that one doesn’t go into the film thinking they will be watching a typical mafia film.  The murder count is low and the mayhem deals more with the process before a hit has occurred.  An interesting concept combined with excellent acting and some fresh dialogue, one would think this is an easy score.  Unfortunately, the filmmakers become over-zealous in their stylization and try a little too hard to deliver their message, keeping this just out of reach from greatness.

Brad Pitt and Richard Jenkins in Killing them Softly F

The year is 2008, during the Presidential election and national financial crisis.  Excerpts from then presidential canidate Barak Obama are inserted throughout the picture to push the heavy handed message pointing out the similarities between the government and organized crime.  Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) are a couple of slacker, small time crooks who are convinced to rob an underground poker game tied to the mob ran by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta).  This initial setup takes a little more time than necessary and is one of the downfalls of KILLING THEM SOFTLY.  But here we meet enforcer and hired hitman Jackie Cogan, played phenomenally by Brad Pitt (reteaming with his THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD director Andrew Dominik).  His character is the driving force of the film and his scenes with the mob go-between guy (played by the always understated and great Richard Jenkins) who hired him are among the highlights.

Killing Them Softly

All the actors do a fantastic job and many scenes rely heavily on their performance of the sometimes rich sometimes stale dialogue.  Earlier scenes specifically drag on a little too long at times losing focus on the story.  James Gandolfini does an excellent job as a sloppy hitman who has lost his way dealing with depression and alcoholism.  While I enjoyed his scenes, they too seemed to matter less to the overall story in conjunction with the amount of time spent on him.

Brad Pitt in Killing Them Softly F

The super slow-motion examination of a bullet leaving the chamber, breaking through glass and entering its victim is a sight to behold.  But I couldn’t help thinking, what was the point?  I’m a fan of needless stylization for entertainment as much as the next person. But when it breaks away from the rest of the tone and purpose toward the film, then I have problems.  Multiple times, the story comes to a halt because the director appears to want to try a new cool camera trick.  At one point Russell is so doped up, he is unable to finish his conversation and the camera blinks along with the character drifting into a trance.  While cinematically engaging, the scenes appear inconsistent and again drag on far too long.

Brad Pitt in Killing Them Softly

To say Director Andrew Dominik is particular in his work would be an understatement.  Since 2000 he has directed three films – CHOPPER (2000), THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007) and now KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012).  All of these have a very deliberate point of view.  Whether that point of view is always worthy of being put on the big screen, well that’s debatable.

I personally appreciate Dominik’s attempt to provide a new perspective, but feel he is his own worst enemy.  His short moments of intense greatness are surrounded by muddled sometimes boring insignificance.  I really struggle between acknowledging his brilliance with hating his pretentiousness.  I want so badly to love KILLING THEM SOFTLY, instead, I just kinda liked it.


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