Killing Them Softly

22 Jul

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When I first saw the trailers for Killing Them Softly in 2012, I got pretty excited about it. It whet my appetite brilliantly and I couldn’t wait to see it. Then a few friends saw it and reported back that it was something of a disappointment, as seemed to be the gist of the critical response. Though I never let reviews sway my opinion of a film, they did dampen my excitement and it has taken until now for me to finally get to see it.

When three not-so-great would be crooks rob a mob-protected card game, a hitman/enforcer by the name of Jackie (Brad Pitt) is hired to sort things out, so to speak. He quickly sets about establishing who the thieves are, whilst also plotting the demise of Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). Markie runs the games and has previous form for robbing from them, so Jackie see’s killing him as the only way to inspire the players to come back to the games.

Sadly, despite a reasonable premise and a decent cast, Killing Them Softly does prove to be the average film I had been told about. Although it does have a few good moments, they often seem out of place and not in keeping with the rest of the film. One of the prime examples of this is a scene in which there is a shooting. Director Andrew Dominik decides to slow things down for us here. The bullet is shown leaving the chamber of the gun in super slow motion. The same effect is used to show the bullet smashing a car window before entering and leaving the recipients head. The effect is impressive, but it is so out of touch with the rest of the film that it ultimately feels pointless. It’s almost as if Dominik realised that there was very little original about the story so decided to try and distract the audience with something fancy. Well, it doesn’t work. If anything, it only embellishes the mediocrity of the rest of his work here.

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One of the most frustrating things about the film was that, despite turning a decent (if unoriginal) premise into a mundane story, Dominik still managed to elicit some fine performances from his actors, with Brad Pitt and the late James Gandolfini being the particular highlights. Pitt is excellent as the enforcer, and it was him that kept me interested in the movie for the whole of its mercifully short runtime. He’s cool and, at times, genuinely intimidating.

Gandolfini turns in a typically good performance as Mickey, a hitman whose life has taken a down turn and spends his time with prostitutes and alcohol. He’s arguably the most engaging aspect of the whole film; it’s hard to take your eyes off him when he’s talking. This, however, feeds into the whole disappointment of the movie. You see, in spite of Gandolifini’s superb performance, his character feels incredibly pointless. He has no real impact on the story and in the end, proves to be rather inconsequential and forgettable. It’s like somebody said, “Hey! James Gandolfini would be interested in starring in this movie. Write him a character and some dialogue, but it has to be ready in ten minutes!”

Continuing the lack of originality displayed throughout the film, the music is nothing to write home about. One particular low point was a scene in which a heroin user (played by Ben Mendelsohn) is shooting up, and rather than source something remotely creative, Dominik chooses to use The Velvet Underground track ‘Heroin’ over the top of it. Now, I firmly believe that that song is one of the best that has ever been written and I love it very much. It’s a shame then that I found its use to be so unwelcome here. It struck me as incredibly unimaginative and irritated me immensely. As a side note, that scene also highlights my earlier point regarding scenes that feel out of place. The heroin use is depicted by slowed down images and audio, but there’s no need for it. It doesn’t fit the film at all and an interesting idea is wasted.

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The story is played out against the backdrop of the American economic crash and Barack Obama’s campaign to be elected as president. Throughout the movie, clips from George Bush and Barack Obama interviews/press conferences of the time are played on TV’s or radios. I guess Dominik was trying to make some kind of statement about the failing American Dream, but it just doesn’t work. It’s entirely unnecessary and on each occasion it takes you right out of the story.

So it proved that Killing Them Softly is a lesson in mediocrity; a film so distinctly average that you’ll probably forget it within minutes of it ending. The biggest disappointment is that in Pitt and Gandolfini, plus a good turn from Scoot McNairy, the casting gave the film so much potential. The actors actually achieve the difficult task of making their dull characters seem interesting, thus elevating the quality of the movie ever so slightly; they achieve a lot from very little. Their performances deserved a better film than this.

5/10

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3 Responses to “Killing Them Softly”

  1. Tom July 22, 2013 at 22:59 #

    Great review! You have a few excellent points here, how you compared the slow-motion sequences to the rest of the set-up of the other scenes and how you mentioned the impact of the political message throughout the film being a distraction. Personally, I was far more bothered by the political allegory than I was with the overall mediocrity of the film, I actually thought KTS was pretty tense consistently; even though a lot of this came from the dialogue. But I am totally in agreement about it being a bit uneven, almost seeming as though it was edited with two different purposes in mind: to entertain and then to persuade.

    • Richard Burns July 25, 2013 at 21:43 #

      Thanks for the comment Tom, glad you agree with my points. I finally got round to reading some reviews once I’d published my own and was surprised by how highly many seems to rate KTS.

      It has it’s moments and a lot of my disappointment came from the fact that so much potential felt wasted to me. It does have some tension – I should have really mentioned that I was impressed with actual robbery of the card game, it was well handled and ever vaguely comic. The political stuff was such an unwelcome distraction though.

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