Killing Them Softly (2012)
October 2, 2012 2 Comments
Hired to rob a high stakes, mob-protected poker game in the belief that Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) would be blamed on account of a previous hiest, Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) instead find themselves being investigated by ‘professional enforcer’ Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt). When they are ordered dead by an unseen committee, Cogan is met by an unnamed driver (Richard Jenkins) who oversees the murder of everyone involved — Mr. Trattman included. When one of the hits throws up an issue — Cogan wouldn’t be able to kill them ‘softly’ enough due to a past encounter — city criminal Mickey (James Gandolfini) is brought in to finish the job.
From its striking beginning — in which the titles are unevenly intercut with footage from Barrack Obama’s 2008 election campaign — it is clear that director Andrew Dominik’s new film is trying to say something. Where other crime movies might have atmospheric scores or elaborate shoot-outs punctuating the drama, Killing Them Softly instead utilises extracts from the debates; the dulcet tones of George W. Bush, John McCain and Obama hovering in the background every time a character is within earshot of a television or radio. Dominik has awkwardly worked in a parallel between organised crime and the economic crisis, best evidenced by the commercialisation of criminality and the invisible committee.
The story itself is deceptively complex (whether or not that’s a weakness shared by the source novel, I can’t say), with these various offscreen forces giving the film a deceptive air of intricacy. As various puppet-masters, kingpins and — as Dominik’s movie approaches its climax — committees are alluded to but not shown, the occasionally sparky dialogue often feels of little consequence as the subjects of discussion never show their faces. Instead, we are introduced to various middle-men, liaisons and lackies who spend much of their time talking about orders, fees and the actions of others. There isn’t even enough plot for the characters Dominik has chosen to include in his screenplay, with Gandolfini flown in almost exclusively so he can be flown back out again.
Of course, that’s not to say that the impressive cast is actually wasted. Pitt is the best he’s been since Moneyball (practically his previous film), proving the film’s only quasi-sympathetic protagonist, putting him in stark contrast to Matthew McConaughey’s comparable character in Killer Joe. His scenes with Richard Jenkins are among the film’s best, even if all they’re doing is sitting in cars, café’s or bars listening to the latest speech from the soon-to-be President Obama. Gandolfini makes the most of a pointless part, almost justifying his own presence while raising genuine concerns about his own health, and the two hot-shot lowlives are suitably sleazy thanks to Monsters‘ Scoot McNairy and Animal House‘s Ben Mendelsohn. It’s just a pity that they were’t given more to do.
Although well acted, there is very little in Killing Them Softly to get excited about. With an under-written plot, poorly integrated subtext and monotonous tone, the various kills are simply too soft to make much of a lasting impression.