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‘Killing Them Softly’ is Not What It Seems

Jackie Cogan is an enforcer hired to restore order after three dumb guys rob a Mob protected card game, causing the local criminal economy to collapse. Starring Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta.  Directed by Andrew Dominik.

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If you’re looking for a shoot em’ up thrill ride, keep on looking.  Killing Them Softly is a character piece.  It is mostly dialogue driven and although the deaths that are shown on screen are very violent and pretty well shot, the movie does not rely on them.  It couldn’t if it wanted to.  There were about five minutes of action in this movie.

The strength of this movie comes from its actors.  Brad Pitt is on point, as he usually is.  His cool, smooth delivery is one of the redeeming factors of Killing Them Softly.Another high point, although in my opinion, a useless character (I’ll talk more about that in a minute), is Mickey played by James Gandolfini.  I don’t think he’s ever been better.  Brad Pitt will get the majority of the attention for this movie, but Gandolfini steals every scene he is in right out from under Pitt.  Gandolfini plays a mob hit man who’s personal life has fallen apart, so he turns to liquor and prostitutes to help fill the void.  The only problem with this character is that I don’t understand what his purpose is.  I suppose everybody in the movie could have been interpreted as a factor in the fiscal crisis of 2008, but it wasn’t portrayed well enough.  The personal sides of its characters are some of the best parts of the script for Killing Them Softly.  Sadly though, and I’m sure some will disagree with me, for the most part the script was awful. 

There is a tool when writing known as subtlety.  The script fails to take advantage of it.  It disguises itself as subtle, by playing clips of Barack Obama and George W. Bush speaking about the fiscal crisis of 2008 in the background of every scene.  The movie satirizes the economical problems faced by the country at the time and shows that even the world of organized crime is hit with difficult financial hardships.  What seems like it could have been a great idea satirically, ends up being so over the top that it just beats you over the head with it.  There are even a few lines toward the end that make mention of the bad economy as a reason why hit men can’t get paid as much as they used to.  Thanks for spelling it out even more.  Give your audience a little credit.  Don’t spoon feed us every little detail.  How else will people learn to think on their own?

The script seemed to me like it was trying too hard.  It came across to me as if the writer (Andrew Dominik) who also directed this yawn, tried to form an entire screenplay around a couple of key monologues spoken by Brad Pitt.  A movie can’t survive on mostly filler.  It needs more substance than what this dialogue threw out there.  Dropping a bunch of F-bombs does not qualify as clever dialogue.

At certain points, for example the conversation between the two morons who hold up the mob poker game, it seems like Andrew Dominik is trying to channel his inner Tarantino.This is no easy feat and shouldn’t be attempted unless absolutely certain you can pull it off.  By having the two guys casually converse before going and pulling off the robbery, I was reminded of the opening diner scene from Reservoir Dogs, and also the ‘royale with cheese’ conversation between Vincent Vega and Jules Winfield in the beginning of Pulp Fiction.  Great scenes to try to work off of, but again, simply dropping F-bombs does not qualify as clever dialogue!

Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins are both great actors in their own right.  Both are dramatically underused in this film.  If you’re going to have actors of that caliber signed on, you need to use them to their potential.  Liotta’s majority of screen time was a scene where he is getting severely beaten after being wrongly accused of being involved with the robbery.You can’t even tell that Jenkins has legs in this movie.  All of his scenes are either sitting behind the wheel of a car, or at a bar.  Both times, Jenkins is the victim of a cool monologue delivered by Brad Pitt.  He doesn’t stand a chance of being noticed. 

Bottom Line:  Killing Them Softly is boring.  The script is long and pointless, except for a few choice pieces.  Even though the script tries to be a biting satire about the debt crisis, it fails.  The acting is top notch.  The performances are the only thing that carried me to the end.

 

Killing Them Softly:6/10

 

 

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