BRAD PITT RICHARD JENKINS JAMES GANDOLFINI RAY LIOTTA
killing them softly
If the hit men don’t kill you, the cynicism will. Killing Them Softly is the third film from writer/director Andrew Dominik, the Kiwi director whose last film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, was quite the cinematic masterpiece, landing Casey Affleck an Oscar nomination. Killing Them Softly couldn’t be farther from ‘Jesse James’; the only similarities are the brutal killings and Brad Pitt. The screenplay is as sarcastic and cynical as you are going to find this year. Pitt’s performance is one that any talented actor could have pulled off, and there isn’t a stellar performance in the film.
Markie Trattman (Liotta) robbed his own mob card game joint and then, years later, stupidly admitted to it. Now three nobody crooks want to repeat the robbery, knowing Markie will instantly take the fall. Now everyone needs to die and the bosses call Jackie Cogan (Pitt) to clean house so that business can resume. “America isn’t a country, it’s a business,” Jackie says to the mob bookie (Jenkins) who explains that these guys pretend they are in a corporate hierarchy.
The opening sequence with the planned robbery is very intense with dark humor and silence. You expect any minute for something awful, loud and tragic to occur as these inexperienced criminals make a mistake they know will come back to get them. Killing Them Softly doesn’t work like we expect it to, and while that’s good on one hand, all it leaves you with is a very empty, dialogue heavy mob movie with extremely dark humor. In some places it feels very much like a Martin Scorsese film, but it doesn’t have the gravitas or the star power for compliment.
Poor Ray Liotta takes the worst beating you are going to see on screen this year, and the sound effects during that brutal scene, where teeth fly and his face cracks, really deserves to be appreciated. The part of the film that annoyed me the most was the vocal diaherra from Gandolfini, who spends his short time on screen degrading women and drowning himself in alcohol. I found this film to be so cold that you just observe from a distance, never feeling any emotion for any character, and never caring who lives or who dies. Dominik tries to make the connection between the 2008 Presidential election and the evolution of economics in the crime world, but the last thing audiences want to see on screen at this point is more politics.
Final Thought – Dominik’s follow up to previous masterpiece a lackluster bore.
By: Dustin Chase W.
Dr. Donna Copeland’s
The opening shots in this political satire introduce the subject of high political rhetoric juxtaposed with the trash remaining after the speech. Throughout the film, background sounds come from TV news programs about the economic meltdown in 2008, how bad it is, and what the government, collaborating with Wall Street, is doing about it. In the foreground is another business going on—the business of the underworld. Gradually, it becomes clear that the similarities are striking. As the Brad Pitt character, Jackie, sums up towards the end, “America is not a country; it’s a business”, and for all of Thomas Jefferson’s high-minded principles written down, he still employed his children as slaves. In the business of the underworld, the f word is interspersed throughout every sentence; and the implication is that whereas that word is not used in the political rhetoric, the American people got f’ed in the Wall Street bail-out. We got killed “softly”, so to speak.
This is a very smart film that is entertaining and funny as it makes its political points. We see the tender and human side of the criminal world, along with the cynicism and cold-heartedness. We see people paying the price for the bad decisions they made. Notably absent are any negative consequences for those who were responsible for the economic disaster.
Brad Pitt is perfect as one who has made it in the criminal business; soft-spoken, realistic, averse to emotion and pain; he likes everything to be “clean.” He has so internalized the culture, it sometimes sounds like he could be talking about any business dealing in the everyday world; whereas, in fact, he is discussing violence and murder and can be sinister in his threats. Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn as the greenhorns also play their parts well in depicting men who have never really considered the possible consequences of their actions and decisions. Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, and Richard Jenkins live up to their reputations as finely tuned actors. Greig Fraser, Cinematographer, whose work is consistently good, will be praised for his elegant rendition of an assassination in slow motion.
Killing Them Softly was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and although it may not be deeply substantive, I think it paints a clever picture of corporate America and the economic crisis that gripped the world just a short time back.