Favorite

A gangster allegory with no soul 

Brad Pitt's 'Killing' is bleak.

click to enlarge 'KILLING THEM SOFTLY': Brad Pitt stars image
  • 'KILLING THEM SOFTLY': Brad Pitt stars.

In the long, proud lineage of American gangster movies, there are few with as short a plot arc as "Killing Them Softly." Three fellas decide to knock over a card game. The men who oversee that game decide there should be consequences. Then: consequences. It goes further than that, but not by much, across 97 minutes. With a strong but limited storyline, the true marrow of the film falls to its characters, dialogue and texture, all of which ring powerful. Intellectually "Killing Them Softly" is a fine film — but it also pumps so much liquid nitrogen through its veins you might leave with mild hypothermia. It is hard and it is harsh, a cinematic battlefield surgery.

The three guys who start this chain of unfortunate events get off to a rough start. Vincent Curatola (Johnny Sack from "The Sopranos") owns a dry cleaner and has a foolproof plan to rob a high-stakes card game run by a guy named Markie, played by Ray Liotta. Markie is known to have orchestrated the armed robbery of his own game once before, so another such event would make him the prime suspect. After some consternation, a callow young ex-con named Frankie (Scoot McNairy, affectingly) and a strung-out Aussie named Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) that the dry cleaner can't stand wind up as the bagmen for this gig. The hold-up of the high-stakes backroom game is a masterful scene and the best argument for the taut, deliberate pacing that director Andrew Dominik ("The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford") establishes and, for the most part, holds throughout.

In the aftermath, two men convene to address the events of that night: Brad Pitt, as Jackie, an apparent lieutenant in whatever criminal organization holds jurisdiction here (someone named "Dillon," forever unseen but menacingly evoked, employs him); and Richard Jenkins ("The Cabin in the Woods") as a character credited only as Driver, an emissary for what he laments are woefully corporatized higher-ups. The middle-managing mobsters summon an aging hitman played by James Gandolfini. This is really something for the erstwhile Tony Soprano: As a degenerate, whoring, alcoholic murderer, Gandolfini has never been slimier.

But herein, mid-film, "Killing Them Softly" stalls out. Everything seems to be working, then it doesn't. Here's one guess as to why. Dominik, who also adapted a George V. Higgins novel for this screenplay, has set the movie in an unnamed American city (though it's plainly shot in New Orleans) during the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis. We know this because news clips routinely leak in via televisions and car radios. The connection isn't especially subtle. While Wall Street's shenanigans are threatening to topple the entire world economy, and George W. Bush is decrying the death of "confidence" that capitalism requires, we have these gangsters handling the Mafioso versions of the same predicaments. What needs to happen when a crime is committed? Who has to pay? It takes a couple of explanations for Driver to grasp what Jackie's getting at when he explains the intricacies of who, precisely, needs to die. Then it hits him: Ah, the public angle. Everyone needs to believe these business ventures are on the up-and-up for the crooks in charge to stay in business.

Dominik isn't reaching terribly for the metaphor. Perhaps he just lets it trip him a bit. Pitt here is something like a corporate angel of death, killing as business, killing for business. By placing him at the center of the action and at the center of the allegory, Dominik courts a certain nihilistic flair. It's risky, and it falters. You simply cannot put a man with no heart at the heart of your movie and expect it to resonate. Dominik does get his point across. But, oh, is it ever cold going down.

Favorite

Film Details

Killing Them Softly
Rated R · 100 min. · 2012
Official Site: killingthemsoftlymovie.com
Director: Andrew Dominik
Writer: Andrew Dominik
Producer: Brad Pitt and Dede Gardner
Cast: Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, James Gandolfini, Vincent Curatola, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, Trevor Long and Max Casella

Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for Killing Them Softly

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Sam Eifling

Most Shared

  • Cotton speech draws protest

    Protesters greeted Tom Cotton today at an event held by the Foreign Policy Initiative, the neocon think tank founded by Cotton cheerleaders Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, called (of course) "Will Congress provide for the Common Defense? National Security priorities in an increasingly dangerous world."
  • Mike Preston of Florida tapped as next director of Arkansas Economic Development Commission

    Mike Preston, vice president for Government Relations with Enterprise Florida, is Gov. Asa Hutchinson's choice as the next director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, reports Roby Brock at Talk Business. Preston will be tasked with doling out millions in corporate welfare to bring in and retain businesses in the state. Hutchinson decided not to keep Grant Tennille, who served in the role under Gov. Mike Beebe, on the job.
  • Anti-gay legislation prompts Human Rights Campaign to run ad in Silicon Valley newspaper

    At a press conference today, Chad Griffin, Arkansas native and president of the Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest LGBT advocacy group, announced that his organization will run a full-page ad (see below) in the San Jose Mercury News, Silicon Valley's largest paper, suggesting that Arkansas is closed for business due to HB 1228, the discriminatory, anti-gay measure making its way through the legislature. It could be up for consideration by the Senate today.
  • In wake of Harris rehoming revelations, broader review of child welfare system begins

    This morning, I spoke with Paul Vincent, the child welfare expert Gov. Asa Hutchinson has selected to conduct a review of the foster care and adoption system at the state Department of Human Services.
  • Lindsey's Resort on Little Red River to close after 50 years

    A note on the website of Lindsey's Resort, the popular trout-fishing destination on the Little Red River at Heber Springs, says the resort will be forced to close due to a bank foreclosure.

Latest in Movie Reviews

Event Calendar

« »

March

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Jake Hinkson's Arkansas noir

    Crime fiction writer from the Ozarks finds an audience abroad.
  • Sex and death

    'It Follows' delivers scares.
  • Mitski comes to Juanita's

    Also, Black Milk at Stickyz, Winter Jam at Verizon Arena, Young Buck at IV Corners, Discover the Dinosaurs at the Statehouse Convention Center and Darsombra at White Water Tavern.
  • The blueprint

    When the final seconds of an unusually dynamic and impassioned college basketball game ticked away, and a season of restorative value for Arkansas's long-beleaguered program ended, the moment for reflection that a turbulent schedule had delayed finally came.
  • Ben Creed at Loony Bin

    Also, Colette Honorable at the Clinton School.
 

© 2015 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation