Hey, have you ever watched a film that has great characters, great performances, great dialogue, and creative visuals, but still ends up being a totally FRUSTRATING mess? If not and if that is your cup of tea, go ahead and watch Killing Them Softly. A crime noir film by Andrew Dominik based on the George V. Higgins novel Cogan’s Trade. I haven’t been this FRUSTRATED after seeing a film in a while. FRUSTRATED because it is a good film that seems to do everything in it’s power to be a bad one.
The film stars Brad Pitt as a ‘Fixer’ of problems for an organized crime organization. When two petty criminals hold up an illegal card game, Pitt is brought in to make sure the right people pay and clean up the damage. It is a simple premise that is drawn out by terribly slow pacing. Killing Them Softly plays out more like a play than a novel. With little to no surprises to be had throughout, you will find yourself wondering why it took so long to get to their payoff. However, the largest criticism of the film, for me, is it‘s methods in attempting to deliver a message.
This film is about the realistic methods of capitalism in our society today. How we actually fight and claw to make a dollar in this world, and what consequences we suffer for our efforts. However, Aaron Sorkin himself would blush at the heavy–handed way this allegory is forced down our throats. From beginning to end, while the plot of the story tries to play out, we are audibly and sometimes visually interrupted by speeches from Barack Obama and George W. Bush talking about American society, the American dream, and the separations between the rich and the poor. No, really. A gangster film that doubles as a documentary for MSNBC. The clumsy way they place these clips in the film completely took me out of the movie. I might be stereotyping here, but I didn’t think many mafia thugs listen to NPR right before tuning up a guy. They don’t make their message the elephant in the room. They make it the animated flying elephant in the room, complete with magic feather and racially insensitive talking crows to boot. It is a distraction, not a backdrop that hurts the picture through its unsubtly.
I threw up my hands many times while watching Killing Them Softly because it is very good when it isn’t preaching to you. Performance wise, Pitt is excellent. James Gandolfini delivers one of the better performances you’ll ever see him do. Richard Jenkins puts me at ease, performance wise, like a confident pilot on the intercom of a turbulent flight. His scenes with Pitt are great, but belong in a better movie. Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn round out a cast that all seem to have brought their A game. Unfortunately, I feel that they’re all wasted on a film that I could only recommend to 1980s republicans and wannabe cinematographers.
Director Andrew Dominik’s visual style is one of the most underrated in Hollywood. He can make you exclaim “That was cool!” with a scene as simple as someone getting out of a car. His camera trickery, however, never gets too overbearing. He brings a richness to the dreary city environments and an intimacy to every setup. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford put him on the map. However, I’d love to see him do something even more ambitious than an indie and get him more exposure. This film definitely won’t help matters.
Killing Them Softly proves that even the perfect arrangement of film circumstances can still produce a lackluster movie. A result that FRUSTRATES the person anticipating the the film for months and the oblivious audience member equally. Watch it…reevaluate your political outlook on society…pay me…then tell me I’m wrong.