Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
Markus Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
Rated R for violence, sexual references, pervasive language, and some drug use
Now playing at Century 20 Oakridge Mall in San Jose, California:
With an inventive set-up and final sequence, “Killing Them Softly” has a devastatingly hard time making the meat of its plot progress into anything remotely interesting. And while there are some stylized visuals here, which once again display writer/director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) as a filmmaker to keep an eye on, “Killing Them Softly”, as an entire film, is a meandering bore-fest that leads to a fantastic, but so not worth your time and trouble, final speech about the economic structure of America today, from Brad Pitt.
Set against the backdrop of the economic crisis of the late 2000’s and the Obama-McCain presidential race, “Killing Them Softly” attempts to tell the story of Jackie Cogan (played by Pitt) an enforcer sent to kill a few blue collar robbers, after a mob protected card game gets held up. But instead, what this movie is essentially about is a town full of morally or physically disgusting mobsters and lowlife’s, having conversations. So, if you think “Killing Them Softly” is going to be a violent, mafia film, in the same vein as a Scorsese production, while you would be partially right (when this movie is violent, it is violent beyond belief and Dominik does do an excellent job of creating a world that compliments his dingy characters) you may be blindsided by how much of this movie is based it in the minutiae of odd and far too tedious male conversations (please don’t think “Pulp Fiction”). Male conversations, which touch on everything from, different ways to degrade women during sex, to bestiality; with the kicker being, said conversations are more of a waste of time than morbidly interesting.
Other than being an utterly uneventful mob film steeped in heavily misogynistic rants, the major flaw here occurs when Dominik stupidly attempts to make a simplistic revenge story more layered than it needed to be. For example, throughout this movie there are constant (and I do mean constant) reminders that all of the events happening take place during the economic crisis. There are even sequences where characters are watching a FOX News report on the economic crisis, go into their cars and hear a similar report on the radio, rob a card game that for some reason has CNN playing in the background, get back into their car and continue listening to the economic report from earlier and finally eat at a diner, that instead of playing music, has a television turned to an eerily familiar MSNBC economic crisis diatribe. In saying all of this, are we to deduce that the mobster motivated plot of “Killing Them Softly” is supposed to be an allegory symbolizing how the US government conducted themselves during the economic crisis? And, are the characters of this film meant to represent certain well known players in the government and corporate world of a few years ago? Well as much as I would like to give a clear answer to this question, I really couldn’t figure it out myself, simply because everything about how Dominik handles the story, the conversations, the characters actions, are so damn obscure, that, as an audience member, to create any sort of parallels to the economic crisis as the bases for this particular plot would be a stretch. All I could really decipher was that Dominik was trying to get some kind of sociopolitical point across, but hell if I (or anyone who sat in the same theater I did) knew what it was.
The Acting: No Oscar nomination for Brad Pitt this year. To say that Pitt does about two seconds of noteworthy acting here would be a very accurate statement. Don’t get me wrong, he plays the main character and in turn is in almost every scene (after the first 20 minutes) BUT as the movie progresses, it becomes apparent that Pitt has nothing really captivating to say or do until the very last scene. Furthermore, until this final scene happens, Pitt merely plays a poor SNL caricature of himself. In fact, his acting is so (surprisingly) mediocre here, that in many of the scenes, all containing actors (Ray Liotta, Scoot McNairy, James Gandolfini) that physically take on a gritty mob or street thug appearance, Pitt seems out of place as the slick haired, tan enforcer for hire. In fact, the best performance here comes from McNairy, who is really the only believable character in the entire movie…Oh, and I almost forgot. Richard Jenkins does nothing here. If you want to see a good Richard Jenkins performance from a movie that came out in 2012, watch “The Cabin in the Woods”.
Final Thought: Maybe the most surprising thing here is the fact that “Killing Them Softly” is not a long movie at all; with a runtime of 97 minutes. But Dominik makes 90 of these minutes seem like an eternity, with a script that was adapted from a George V. Higgins novel in a purposefully dull manner, while using thematic elements to bludgeon his audience over the head in a movie scored by the droning of political talking heads. In short, it’s not like I would rather go through another economic crisis than watch “Killing Them Softly” again, but let’s just say, it’s not a wonder why this movie tanked at the box office.
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