‘Killing Them Softly’ Movie Review – Buried Politics
Since I’ve started attending more press screenings, I sometimes forget what seeing a movie with a regular audience is like. The advance screenings can be packed, but people are often times seeing the movie for promotional means, putting them in a much different position. So this weekend, I found myself surrounded by people who actually paid to see the movie, and their reactions may speak volumes to why you should – or perhaps shouldn’t – see Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly.
When a team of stupid criminals, led by Johnny (Vince Curatola) and followed by Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), decide to rip off a mob ring’s card game, they don’t quite understand the possible ramifications. Stealing the mob’s money may help them in the short term, but the blowbacks extend throughout the entire mob scene.
Jackie (Brad Pitt) immediately becomes the mob’s “enforcer” as he tries to reestablish order. Starting with Markie (Ray Liotta), Jackie has to find out who is responsible.
Right away, the movie appears to have some sort of political agenda. It’s not exactly clear what they are going for, but with the use of Barack Obama’s television chatter mixed with political talking heads, Killing Them Softly was obviously building to a certain point, somewhat like his previous film.
However, much like Dominik’s last film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Killing Them Softly is plagued by overdrawn extended shots. Don’t get me wrong, I thought The Assassination of Jesse James was a fabulous movie, but it did drag a bit at times. This is especially problematic for Killing Them Softly because it is a full 63 minutes shorter.
The two are similar in some respects, though, because their endings are the most powerful parts (this may be a personal thing). I’d argue Killing Them Softly is much less about the characters – something else that makes it more of a struggle – but when the capitalism stuff finally comes through, it salvages the film.
You wouldn’t know this by some of the theater reactions I witnessed, though. Walking out of a movie isn’t all that uncommon, but I guess I forgot how often this actually happens. According to the ten or so people who couldn’t handle the overdrawn dialogue, Killing Them Softly is not nearly what it is hyped up to be.
I’d personally fall somewhere between the diverse reactions. I think Pitt is powerful (as always), but most of the characters simply weren’t developed. The main characters embodied the problems the most, too. Based on George V. Higgins’ novel Cogan’s Trade, I assumed Jackie Cogan would be the main character. I still think he’s technically considered the lead, but I could’ve used more of him.
With all that being said, I’d say the movie still shouldn’t be considered a “failure.” Besides Pitt’s performance, the script calls for some clever and funny moments that practically all mob crime dramas use to varying extents. I’d also disagree with the walkouts in the degree of effectiveness of, at least, some of the major scenes.
My overall reaction to Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly is sadly mixed. Although I understand some of the gripes towards The Assassination of Jesse James, I was hoping Dominik’s newest effort would focus immensely on the characters. And while I thought his not-so-subtle digs at capitalism were the best parts, I don’t think the characters were used quite well enough.
I’d venture to guess the small population of walkouts agrees with my take.
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