Sunday, December 2, 2012

Killing Them Softly (2012) - Movie Review

I'll spare you from any puns about the title of this movie and the similarly named song.

We're introduced to a bunch of reject criminals planning their next 'job'.  The plan is to hold up a mafia card game, as there will be a lot of cash for the taking.  They believe it's the perfect crime because the person hosting the game, Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), previously admitted to robbing his own game, so they know Trattman will get blamed again if another of his games is robbed.

The crime actually goes as planned, but the mafia wants the people responsible to pay.  Jackie (Brad Pitt) is the hitman hired by the mob to take care of business. He knows that Trattman was set up, but believes that the people on the street will only believe he was responsible, so Trattman needs to take the hit.  A mob representative (Richard Jenkins) only wants him roughed up.  This frustrates Jackie as he doesn't like how the mob is becoming too corporate, with simple decisions needing to go through levels of management and red tape for approval.  This is where Killing Them Softly starts to show a very cynical view of corporate culture, the government, and even the U.S.

As the movie goes on, more hits are ordered, but Jackie needs to bring in another hitman because he has a close relationship with one of the people that needs to get taken out.  He calls on Mickey (James Gandolfini) to help him out.  However, you learn that Mickey has devolved into a drunk that can't be relied on, leaving Jackie to take care of everything.

Killing Them Softly is one of those movies that I think a lot of people are going to have a hard time getting into.  It starts off very slowly until Brad Pitt finally shows up, and even then it's still pretty slowly paced.  Many scenes linger on longer than they should.  While the dialog is very funny in parts, it seemed like any scene that didn't involve Brad Pitt didn't have a lot of weight.

I liked the gritty, noir feel about it, but where the movie really excelled was in the camera work.  I'm not one to normally notice stuff like that, but they did a lot of cool things with interesting camera angles and how they used focus.  There's a scene where a character is high on heroin and the way the scene was shot, you really got a feel for how the guy was tripping and how his friend was getting frustrated trying to talk to him.  In another scene, there was a hit where they used a very stylish use of super slow motion.  However, Dredd 3D did the same, stylish, slow-motion death over the summer, and I think it looked better and fit the context of the film more. Another thing that really stood out to me was the sound.  When someone gets punched, you feel the loud thud as if you were getting hit.  The gunshots in the film are jarring at times.

The other strength of the movie are the performances.  Brad Pitt is great and totally carries the film! My only complaint is that it didn't start with his character, as he doesn't make his first appearance until almost 20 minutes into the film.  While he's not a nice guy, you can't help but root for him.  I think it's because I sympathized with his frustration of having to deal with all the red tape and bureaucracy he encountered.  He was hired to do a job and just wanted to do it without having to wait for approval for every single thing.  I thought he was the very definition of an anti-hero and it totally worked for me.  James Gandolfini has a limited role, but his interaction with Pitt was fun to watch.  I also enjoyed Richard Jenkins as the mob liaison (simply billed as Driver), but Jenkins is always great.

As I mentioned before, the movie takes a very cynical stab at America, and depending on how you feel about the current state of affairs, this may or may not work for you.  The movie takes place during the time of Obama's first election, so throughout the film there are clips and soundbites of both Obama and George W.  It's interesting to note that this is based off a book written in 1974 by George V. Higgins called Cogan's Trade.  I haven't read the book, so I don't know if those messages were also in the book or inserted by writer/director Andrew Dominik.  Dominik is from New Zealand, so it seems like an outsider's perspective of America.

The film had a great final scene though.  It was the kind of ending that gives you that punch where you can only help but laugh a little.

Killing Them Softly is a bit of a mixed bag, and I can understand how this won't be for everyone.   The slow pacing may turn off some, as well as the statements they are making about our government and culture.  On the other hand, I enjoyed it for it's gritty, visual style and it's dark humor.  Plus, it has a great performance from Brad Pitt.  This movie reminded me a lot of last year's Drive, which had a lot of style, but not a lot of meaningful dialog.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. Good review Erik. It could have been a bit tighter and gotten rid of it's annoying political-message, but still does a great job with building suspense and tension just through long scenes of just talking and exposition.

    1. Thanks, Dan. It's an oddly paced movie for one that isn't actually that long, but I still enjoyed the feel of it.

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