KILLING THEM SOFTLY
* (out of 5)
November 30, 2012
Brad Pitt as JACKIE
Scoot McNairy as FRANKIE
Ben Mendelsohn as RUSSELL
James Gandolfini as MICKEY
Richard Jenkins as DRIVER
Vincent Curatola as JOHNNY AMATO
Ray Liotta as MARKIE TRATTMAN
Directed by: Andrew Dominik
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
After our press screening of Andrew Dominik’s “Killing Them Softly,” a critic friend of mine shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, it’s better than ‘Jesse James.’”
He was, of course, referring to Dominik’s previous long-winded and long-titled 2007 film “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” And I, of course, agreed with him. However, according to my calculations, there are many things that are better than “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” things like most movies made since its release, ingrown toenails and rancid buttermilk.
I’m not going to slip into hyperbole and say that genocide is better because that would be ridiculous. Genocide reaches many more people, considering “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” had an estimated theatrical audience of only half a million or so, based on the paltry $3.9 million box office and the average ticket price of $6.88 in 2007.
Still, declaring that “Killing Them Softly” is better than “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is like claiming that Adam Sandler’s odious film “That’s My Boy” is better than his even more odious film “Jack and Jill” from last year. We’re into a matter of degree, not a means of defending the quality of the film.
Like that awful movie from 2007 whose name I don’t wish to write again, “Killing Them Softly” had serious potential to be good, and that makes it most disappointing. Instead, it becomes a meandering, often dull, sometimes incoherent, preachy mess that shamelessly and painfully borrows from other filmmakers.
The story follows a group of criminals during the 2008 financial crisis who are feeling the pinch of the economy. A small group of rogue character knock over a high-stakes gambling ring, but they can’t keep their mouths shut about pulling off the job. This triggers a local assassin (Brad Pitt) to come in and clean up the mess. Throughout the process, we see the bureaucratic nature of the business and the similar decisions that are commonplace in its legal counterpart.
Throwing Brad Pitt into a crime thriller leads many to expect an action film with a certain level of shoot-em-up fun. At least that’s the anticipation I’ve felt doing reviews for this film on various radio stations around the country. However, this is not the case. “Killing Them Softly” kills the audience slowly by dragging out long scenes of dialogue and bludgeoning the audience with political messages.
Dominik desperately wants to be Quentin Tarantino in this film, as evidenced by the opening scenes in which one of the small-time crooks is getting orders from a smaller crime boss. We’re treated to long stretches of dialogue and a cross-cut flashback to a previous crime. This would have been innovative and clever had it not been so imitative of “Reservoir Dogs,” just without the punch and coolness of Tarantino’s dialogue.
The biggest problem with paying homage to something is that when you do it poorly, it comes across as a cheap imitation. And that’s exactly what “Killing Them Softly” felt like. Dominik tries to be clever with this deliver, but he ends up transforming into a pretentious film student from the late 90s.
However, by far, the biggest sin that “Killing Them Softly” commits is its insulting and pervasive political message. Michael Moore has more finesse when doling out his dogma. Throughout “Killing Me Softly,” the audience is smacked with speech after speech from politicians from the 2008 newscape. Sometimes this comes in the form of voice-overs. Other times, from C-SPAN broadcasts in seedy bars. Worse yet, we have scenes in which criminals who debate the moral relevancy of raping a hooker listen to non-stop talk radio. Seriously… no one in this movie listens to a music station.
There’s even a scene at the end of the film where two characters lend commentary to one of Barack Obama’s speeches, again inexplicably broadcast on C-SPAN at a local dive bar. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a comedian retelling the same joke on stage ad nauseam and then taking the last five minutes of his set to explain the joke in great detail.
It’s insulting to anyone’s intelligence, and it’s boring as hell.
Just like this movie.