Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: Crime, Drama
Run Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn,
James Gandolfini, Vincent Curatola, Ray Liotta
Based on the novel "Cogan's Trade" by George V. Higgins
Written & Directed by Andrew Dominik (Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford)
Killing Them Softly carries a flimsy political message wrapped in the cloak of a gangster movie. The opening credits abruptly cut back and forth between a speech by President Obama and a drifter walking through a beaten-down stretch of town. This sequence sets up the film to suggest that, perhaps, it will carry some sociopolitical heft.
Unfortunately what it gives us instead are tired performances, characters and ideas. Most mobster or gangster films rely heavily on style and a sense of wicked coolness to portray the dangerous side of the criminal underworld and its inhabitants. Killing Them Softly has none of this and is more talky than your average crime film. In fact, it is brutal at times...both in its portrayal of violence as well as how boring and painful some of the scenes are to sit through.
Brad Pitt plays Jackie, a hit man brought in to straighten out a mess made after a local poker game is robbed by a couple of nobody-level thugs. It's hard to call him the protagonist, as he doesn't show up until nearly halfway through this 97 minute movie. Before he is around, we are introduced to Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) who are hired by Johnny "The Squirrel" Amato (Vincent Curatola, Johnny Sack from HBO's The Sopranos) to knock over this poker game. The game is ran by Markie (Ray Liotta) and is the perfect job because Markie had already stolen from his own game in the past and had gotten away with it...so if it got robbed a second time, everybody would believe that Markie was the culprit.
The crooks succeed, but when one of them blabs, Jackie is brought in. In many scenes, he is alongside a nameless middle-man (Richard Jenkins) in a parked car. This straight-laced fellow gives Jackie instructions on what to do and implies that the mob nowadays is also being ran as a business, with committees making decisions and new ideas needing to be sent up the food chain, cutting through several layers of red tape in order to come to fruition.
Times are tough, even for the mob. James Gandolfini - best known as Tony Soprano - gives the film's best performance as a down-and-out mobster who chooses to ignore the problems around him. It's too bad that his character lends very little to the rest of the film.
Behind many of the scenes, are speeches by then-President George W. Bush and then-Senator Barack Obama, as they discuss the financial crisis that rocked our nation. The point is that these criminals are driven to do what they do because of our system and these politicians insistence that we are all created equal. Michael Corleone told is in The Godfather that mob activity is "strictly business," and this film means to tell us that this is the United States' mantra as well.
They may be right, but should a mob movie culminate with a hit man pointing out the hypocrisies of Thomas Jefferson, as this film does? Killing Them Softly tries to make so much noise about the subject of hypocrisy that it barely registers as a whisper.
Good mob movie? No. Interesting script or characters? No. Had the movie given us more of what we expect from the genre in the way of action, excitement and/or humor, it may have been a bit more effective in delivering its tired political ideals.
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