Title: KILLING THEM SOFTLY
The Weinstein Company
Director: Andrew Dominik
Screenwriter: Andrew Dominik
Cast: Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, James Gandolfini
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 11/14/12
Opens: November 30, 2012
In an underworld assortment populated with alcoholics, junkees and morons, it’s refreshing to find a hitman with a knowledge of Thomas Jefferson and the ability to make points about how Jeffersonian idealism impacts on today’s America. In Andrew Diminik’s entry into the copy “Pulp Fiction” subgenre, who but Brad Pitt’s character would be the smartest, the fellow who, however brutal, would be the interpreter of today’s crime syndicates? Only he can compare his gang to the jokers from Wall Street and the banks, indicting the president himself– who busted Bill Clinton’s balanced budget to such an effect that we’re heading down the tubes to a 3rd world nation that owes its shirt to: China?
“Killing Them Softly” is a gangster tale that wants to resonate on a deeper level, to show that President Obama’s dream of having not red states, not blue states, but the United States is a crock. Not that Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is some do-gooder doing his share to build up our nation’s wobbly infrastructure and deep split in values. The only thing you could say about Jackie Cogan—aside from respecting his knowledge of high-school senior American History 1—is that he has feelings. When he kills people, he kills them from a distance, that is, softly. If you get too close, you may be disgusted with yourself or, even worse, have the victim cough blood and vomit only your shoes (which does happen to one of the lesser individuals of the syndicate).
To a background of some great American tunes from decades ago like Clff Edwards’ “Paper Moon”—which declares that what we’re seeing is only a paper moon in a cardboard sky, a thoroughly fantasized and unrealistic state—Cogan plies his trade. The key event is a card game guarded by the mob which gets raided not once but twice, the first time probably by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) who stole from his own game, and a second time by a scared Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and a drug-and-alcohol influenced idiot, Russell (Ben Mendelsohn). In one of the most brutal scenes since “Pulp Fiction,” Markie is beaten to an inch of his life, punched in the jaw and stomach, losing four teeth and slinking away with broken ribs. That he soon gets put out of his misery a given: Dominik has the camera focus on the bullet as it inches slowly toward Markie in his car, shatters the window, and sends him sprawling amid a cluster of additional missiles.
In the movie’s most vivid near-monologue, probably extempore to a great extent, gangster Mickey (James Gandolfini) discusses with Cogan his obsession with tail and drink as he says goodbye to a hooker—the only female in this testosterone film. Ultimately, despite Brad Pitt’s total loss of his former pretty-boy demeanor, looking like twice the guy you don’t want to meet in a dark alley, “Killing Them Softly” is so confusing about who is doing what that you figure Dominik wants only to show off his style, cater to an arthouse crowd, and shock the audience by employing enough violence to make us believe that criminals are the natural by-product of a country in which every man is for himself.
Rated R. 97 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C-
Acting – C
Technical – C+
Overall – C