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.

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

  • The Quapaw return to Arkansas

    Casino try a good bet.
  • Jean Gordon to receive Truth Teller award

    Jean Gordon, who's worked a half-century in just about every social justice and peace movement you can name, will receive the Arkansas Community Institute's 2014 Community Truth Teller Award at a program at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the library's Darragh Center
  • The French Hill 'tis better to receive-than-give open line

    An open line that features new Congressman French HIll's antipathy in the Catholic newspaper to Obamacare as a "giveaway" to drug companies and hospitals. A Catholic nurse points out that children and other people in need are the real beneficiaries of this giveaway, along with Catholic hospitals.
  • Fan happiness over Hogs' win over LSU costs UA $25,000 UPDATED

    The University of Arkansas will be fined $25,000 by the SEC because Hog fans stormed the football field after Saturday's victory over LSU snapped a long SEC losing streak. It was a second offense by the UA of the conference's "access to competition area" policy.
  • GOP's new Obamacare attack

    It was inevitable. The long crusade against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has pivoted from a battle against socialism to a populist war against big business: The program known as Obamacare is now supposed to be merely a feed trough for the captains of industry, not a government program to force health care on the undeserving poor.

Latest in Movie Reviews

Event Calendar

« »

November

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  

Most Viewed

  • Rediscover Petit Jean

    A new guide to the state park's trail system doubles as a digestible science lesson.
  • Thollem Electric comes to White Water

    Also, Knox Hamilton at Juanita's, John Kilzer at South on Main, Third Friday Argenta Artwalk, The Idle Class release party at Vino's, Arkansas Arts Center museum sale at Clear Channel Metroplex, Big Piph at Ron Robinson and Chase Bryant at Revolution.
  • Somewhere between terrible and hilarious

    A few laughs in 'Dumb and Dumber' sequel.
  • "Chardonnay and Cabaret" at The Weekend Theater

    Also, South on Main hosts Bonnie Montgomery.
  • Victory

    Forgive the beleaguered, moonlighting Hog columnist if he scratches out this week's Pearls About Swine in much the same way Bret Bielema rejoiced Saturday night: a smidge teary-eyed and a bit unshaven, and with a robust, impromptu smooch for the wife.
 

© 2014 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation