Starring: Brad Pitt, Ben Mendelsohn, Scoot McNairy, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins
Run-time: 97 minutes
IN SHORT: Killing Them Softly is two separate movies; one half is a brilliant heist movie, the other is a half-baked political drama. The film largely feels like a waste of talent and time.
Killing Them Softly is the third feature length film from promising New Zealand director Andrew Dominik. With his first Hollywood feature, The Assassination of Jesse James, Dominik proved he could direct a visually-pleasing movie and tell a great story. In certain parts of Killing Them Softly, you can see the makings of a great director but this gets lost in the heavy-handed manner delivery of his film's political message.
The film is set in 2008, during the American financial crisis and just before Obama is elected president. The main plotline concerns two inept criminals; Frankie (McNairy) and Russell (Mendelsohn), who naively stick up Ray Liotta's mob-organised card game. Jackie Cogan (Pitt) is tasked with finding out who took off with the mob's money and dishing out punishment. He continuously reports back to a shady mafia representative, played by Richard Jenkins, who wants the matter sorted fast, but discretely.
|Half of the film takes place in cars or at a bar.|
And for those of you wanting to check out this movie for Mr Pitt, lower your expectations immediately. You don't see Pitt for around 20-minutes and for a lot of the film he's on the periphery, usually nodding along whilst a character is moaning about the government or staring off into space for dramatic effect. Pitt's role as the hired mob enforcer is an interesting one but the character feels very hollow and one-dimensional. He kills people for money and doesn't trust the goverment - that's essentially all you get from the character of Jackie Cogan.
My favourite characters are the two idiots, Frankie and Russell. Russell is a dog-napper junkie who brags to everyone who'll listen that he stole the mob's money. It doesn't take Jackie long to track the two down. Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy are easily the most captivating characters in the film. In my opinion, their story should've been fleshed out more, as Jackie disposes of them rather easily and anti-climatically. Soprano's star James Gandolfini also features, showing up as another mob-hired hitman but his role is unnecessary and under-developed, so it's not worth elaborating on.
|Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy are the highlight of the film.|
Artistically, there's much to appreciate in Killing Them Softly. I found the variety of shots, particularly the use of long, tracking shots, enjoyable. The violence is also gruesomely realistic, with one scene causing me to look away because it was so distressing. Dominik clearly has a talent at directing gritty action, which makes it all the more frustrating when the film is made up of static conversational scenes leading nowhere. Any interest or enjoyment I got from the visuals, was ruined by the lack of a compelling script. The ending secured my apathetic feeling towards Killing Them Softly.
In the final scene of the film, Jackie meets Richard Jenkins' character in a bar to claim his payment. In the background Barack Obama is delivering a speech about the American dream and equality. Jackie's paid a fraction of what he was promised and he kicks up a fuss by vehemently declaring, "America's not a country, it's just a business. Now fuckin' pay me". The film cuts to black and the credits roll. I felt completely unsatisfied, bemused and a little annoyed.