Format: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy // MPAA Rating: R // Directed by: Andrew Dominik // Written by: Andrew Dominik // Starring: Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta // Studio: The Weinstein Company
Review by: Bill Jones
Killing Them Softly is a movie that purports itself to be something more than it really is. It wants to be a mob movie with a political conscience. It wants the stylized nature of its violence to say something more than its surface value. And it wants its quirky moments to give it an identity of its own. But in the end, it’s really just a tedious exercise, delivered without the slightest sense of subtlety and what plays as cheap imitation rather than genuine identity.
Killing Them Softly stars Brad Pitt as Jackie, an enforcer hired to clean up the mess after three guys — guys who think they’re smart but aren’t, so much — knock off a mob-protected card game. They bank their plans on the fact that the guy who runs the game, Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), already knocked it off himself once. When he was in the clear and got too big for his britches, he talked about it. So their logic is if it were ever knocked off again everyone would first look to him.
The problem is that — while Trattman will likely pay for opening this door to begin with and to quiet the general suspicions surrounding him — most of those in charge don’t think he would be as stupid as the robbers really are, and so the hunt is on, and it is almost a certainty from the start that those who wronged the mob will pay for it.
But along the way, we also meet the people paying Jackie, the people who work for Jackie, and a drunk-off-his-ass hitman named Mickey (James Gandolfini) brought in by Jackie. They all have a lot of very strange conversations, and Mickey in particular turns out to be more than a handful — more of a useless dunce — maybe a shell of a former self — than the ruthless henchmen we’re used to seeing in these types of movies.
It all seems sort of pointless and meandering, but in a way that all plays a part in how the movie is designed to parallel the financial crisis in the United States. We learn this not through inference or context clues, but because apparently every television in every mob hangout in the city is tuned to C-SPAN, which, of course, is totally unbelievable. Let’s give writer-director Andrew Dominik the benefit of the doubt and call it artistic license, a stylistic choice, but then we can go ahead and say it’s still no fun to be consistently beat over the head with a message.
And at the end of the day, the movie is mostly filled with pointless banter. Its opening scene is reminiscent of just about any scene from Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. But instead of providing a unique identity, it just feels like a cheap knockoff.
But Killing Them Softly does have its moments. In a scene in which Trattman is seriously roughed up by a few goons looking to send a message, the frame rate speeds up to that of modern action film, and each punch feels more excruciating because of it. There is also a scene in which Jackie confronts one of the robbers in a bar, trying to coax him into turning over his boss. The tension is through palpable, despite the scene’s understated pacing.
But this is an incredibly small return on the investment of watching Killing Them Softly. And to continue to use the film’s metaphor, it’s a lot like Killing Them Softly is dealing the philosophy of trickle-down economics and we’re part of the lower class, simply enjoying the scraps from the less-than-perfect execution of a more promising idea.
The Killing Them Softly Blu-ray release only features two true extras. There is a deleted scenes reel with four extra scenes, none of which add much or feel like a true loss to the film. The second is a behind-the-scene featurette, but it only clocks in around 6 minutes and also doesn’t offer much. I suppose that’s not a bad thing, though. The film wouldn’t want to show its hand and reveal its message without making people think a bit.
For more info, www.killingthemsoftlymovie.com
Bill Jones Ink received a copy of the film courtesy of the studio for review purposes.