KILLING THEM SOFTLY
By Gary Murray
Starring Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins
Written and directed by Andrew Dominik
Running time 97 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Cable
Brad Pitt is one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. His shining super nova of popularity has been in such works as Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Moneyball, Fight Club and the Ocean’s Franchise. In his latest, he plays a hit man. It is his obvious attempt to win the Oscar and is titled Killing Them Softly.
The film starts with a pair of jarring images meant to off-settle the audience. There is a swirl of plastic bags and a guy walking through a tunnel. The pictures are harsh and loud, making one uncomfortable in the world presented.
Almost instantly, the film anchors itself in a specific time, right before the 2008 election. It is also the time of the Wall Street Bailout, where the government has to step in to prevent the financial world from collapsing. While the film rolls along, we hear political speeches from both parties. It is meant to parallel the low-level crooks on screen and the high-level crooks that run the government. It is right out of Basics of Symbolism 101.
The story is of a robbery. Two low-level crooks are hired by a mid-level gangster to hit a Mob protected card game. The guys know that it will be an easy score with an on-site patsy.
Markie (Ray Liotta) runs the game and has been robbed before. Years later, he admitted that he was the one who robbed the gamblers. He laughed it off but everyone knows that it has marked himself a made-man. It will be obvious to everyone that Markie is the one who orchestrated this robbery. One of the robbers is going to use the money from the score to become a drug dealer.
The film is not about the score but of the aftermath. Driver (Richard Jenkins) is a liaison between the lowlifes and the higher-ups who seem to run everything. He hires Jackie (Brad Pitt) to clean-up the mess. Jackie knows that Markie has to be eliminated, just to keep the guys on the street happy. He also knows that Markie didn’t rob the game.
Eventually, Jackie figures out the three who are a part of the giant scam and is contracted to take them all out. Since he knows one of the men and doesn’t want to deal with pleading, Jackie hires an outside contractor Mickey (James Gandolfini) to deal with him. Mickey is much more interested in drinking and hookers than completing the job.
The film is about the execution of all the men involved. It is a bloody mess that Jackie has to clean-up. It is also a bloody mess of a work of cinema. The film plays like second-rate Tarrantino but without the cleaver touches or Guy Richie without the flair. The film is way too talky, missing any beat of action and tension. Andrew Dominik as writer/director duplicates other directors without learning any tricks or skills.
The biggest problem with Killing Them Softly is that it is redundant. Ray Liotta is re-doing his Good Fellas character and James Gandolfini is only a degree off from his Tony Soprano performance. The final product feels more like scenes spliced from different and better works.
The other thing about Gandolfini’s role is that it is in the film for no reason. The man comes in, does nothing and adds not a moment to the plot. If it were not James Gandolfini, the part would have been cut out and never missed. It is a total waste of an actor.
The film has a gritty feel but it is disjointed. One of the big scenes is a beating of Markie. He is crushed to a bloody pulp and a spraying of blood and teeth. It is as graphic as it is disturbing. It is the kind of scene that will have some member of the audience going toward the isles.
The film has half a dozen characters that never interact with each other. It almost feels as if each major actor was contracted for two days and could not be put into the same scenes. Because of this, the world of Killing Them Softly doesn’t flow but comes across in starts and stops.
I have no problem with low-life people doing low-life things but Killing Them Softly just does not have that much going for it. There are much better films that tackle the same subject.