Sunday, December 23, 2012

Review: "Killing Them Softly"

After weeks of ignoring my review, I have returned to finish it. 

Killing Them Softly features a great cast, including Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini and Richard Jenkins. It has a 76% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where it is called a darkly comic, visceral thriller. Unfortunately, audiences do not seem to agree. CinemaScore, which polls audience reactions after screenings, has given the film an F (Argo, Lincoln and Life of Pi, conversely, have received ratings of A+, A an A-). I wanted to much to like Killing Them Softly. At times it is darkly comic and the violence is terrifying and thrilling at the same time, but too many drawn out conversations caused too many disruptions to my attention span, and the plot itself. Interspersed throughout the film shots of American presidents Bush and Obama discussing the recession and economic collapse. The exact reasons for this are not clear until the end, but Killing Them Softly does try too hard to be, as Rotten Tomatoes calls it, a cautionary tale. The films works when it wants to be shocking with its scenes of brutal violence, but it falters when it wants to be more than a gangster film. The film is based on George V. Higgins' 1974 crime novel Cogan's Trade. Andrew Dominik adapted the novel and directed the film. Killing Them Softly tries too hard to be allegorical. It is far more Scarface than Casino. And as I come back to my review, three weeks after seeing the film, all promotion and discussion of the film has died. It has received no awards and no nominations during award season, which should come as no surprise. Killing Them Softly works as a brutally violent - and often hilarious - story about a poker game robbery gone wrong, but it gets bogged down in a preachy and unnecessary thematic sidestory about the American recession.

Markie (Ray Liotta) runs an illegal poker ring. He once hired two men to rob his poker room, and he does not punished, despite later admitting his involvement. Squirrel (Vincent Curatola) believes that he can hire his own men to rob Markie's game and everyone will believe Markie tried to steal their money a second time. Johnny hires Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Frankie's unstable, drug-addicted friend Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) to hold up the game. This prompts an unnamed emissary (Richard Jenkins), credited only as Driver (as we meet him in a car), to meet with hitman Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to orchestrate the mob's revenge on Frankie and Russell. The only problem is that Jackie knows one of the men, and he must convince Driver to also hire Mickey Fallon (James Gandolfini), another hitman, to help.

It infuriates me that such a great cast can come together to create such a deeply dissatisfying film. I was confused as to the location of the story. Killing Them Softly made me feel like it was set in the northeast United States, but it was shot in New Orleans, Louisiana. The source material, Cogan's Trade, as referenced by Wikipedia, reveals that cars play a central role in the film. It is true that cars are often seen to be important in the film, but the film only goes as far as to make you wonder why. It really made me think that the film was set in Detroit. It is not very surprising that there is such a disparity between the film's rating amongst critics and the fact that audiences seem to have forgotten it exists. Its RottenTomatoes page reveals that only 52% of audiences liked the film, and it has only grossed $14 million at the box office. Even Silver Linings Playbook has earned more, and Lincoln has so far grossed over $100 million. I guess Killing Them Softly has just left a bad taste in my mouth. It is a film with a story that appealed to me, but Andrew Dominik's film underperformed. Even Brad Pitt, who is a talented actor, does very little with a potentially provocative role. Hollyhood knows how to make a ganster film, and this is not one to be proud of. Go watch The Godfather, or better yet, go watch Jacques Audiard's thrilling French film Un Prophète!

My rating: 2 stars out of 4.

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