Killing Them Softly
Killing Them Softly is anything but soft and subtle.
Directed by Andrew Dominik, Killing Them Softly is based on the book Cogan's Trade (which I haven't read). Brad Pitt plays Jackie Cogan, a mob enforcer brought in by Driver (Richard Jenkins). Driver explains that an illegal card game run by Markie (Ray Liotta) has been robbed by two men.
The two men are revealed to be Frankie and Russell, (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) who are hired by local business owner Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola). Johnny explains that Markie had earlier staged a robbery at his own card game and made off with the money himself. Later, while drunk, Markie bragged to his mob associates that he staged the robbery. Johnny's plan is to rob Markie's card game again, as Markie had already bragged about robbing the card game before, the mob will assume it is Markie again and kill him. Once Markie has been taken care of, Johnny, Frankie and Russell will be in the clear with the money from the card game.
As such, with this type of plot, things don't go exactly as planned. Heroin-addicted Russell, begins to brag about the robbery and this information makes its way back to Jackie. Jackie realizes that Markie is innocent and quickly deduces who is responsible for the robbery. As Jackie knows Johnny, he brings in New York hitman Mickey (James Gandolfini) to assist with the hits required for this job. Mickey is going through a messy divorce and a huge alcohol problem, which complicates matters with Jackie.
If anyone saw The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, directed by Andrew Dominik, then you should know what to expect from this film. Andrew Dominik, in some ways, resembles Terence Malick. Scenes in Killing Them Softly seem to serve no purpose and ramble on involving dialogue or shots that do not pertain to the film at all. At times, this film is very frustrating with hip "naturalistic"-sounding dialogue that doesn't move the film at all. Other times, this is a solid dark comedy/crime drama that works so well.
Speaking of things that don't work well, James Gandolfini's Mickey serves no purpose in the film at all. He is brought in by Jackie to do a hit, but instead drinks the whole time and spouts off on topics about his divorce, potential criminal charges and sex. Nothing involving the Mickey character works, and the character should have been edited from the film. Along with Mickey, the character of Russell was annoying to sit with during any of his screen time. As he is a heroin addict, all time spent with him is an annoying, rambling and incoherent mess. I understand that is probably what spending time with someone like that is, but that doesn't mean I have to enjoy it. Russell's scene where he informs Frankie that he spoke about the robbery came off as so annoying and done in an over-the-top artistic way by Andrew Dominik that I couldn't wait for that scene to be over.
Brad Pitt, on the other hand, delivers a really good performance as a man who has a job to do and that's it. He isn't here to make small talk and take in the scenery. He has been hired to do a job and he will do it. Rounding out the cast are an entertaining performance by Richard Jenkins who acts as a spokesman for the mafia and Liotta's Markie who suffers through one beating after another. Oh, and Sam Shepard shows up as well. His role is about as brief as the line I just wrote to describe it. I assume he had a bigger role in the reported two and a half hour first cut version of this film.
And what would a review about this film be without touching on the over the top mentioning of the economy? I know what Andrew Dominik was going for, and it ties in well to the film, but when every character is either listening to the news or watching the news or talking about the news, it gets tiresome. This wasn't being hit over the head, this was being hobbled by mentioning how bad the economy is. Sprinkle the film with it... not be a glutton and blanket the film with it.
As a crime drama, this is a hard-hitting and solid film. If you know it is directed by Andrew Dominik beforehand, that will help as this film tends to take the long, winding road to get to its point instead of following the straight road. Rooted by good performances, and some beautiful cinematography and a biting cynicism to it, this is a solid recommendation.