Review: Killing Them Softly

 

The Weinstein Company: Brad Pitt in "Killing Them Softly"I’ve never had any desire to be associated with criminal behavior, and there are a multitude of reasons for that. Besides it being immoral, one of the main reasons why is simply because I can’t go to prison looking this good. As a heterosexual man with good looks, charisma and intelligence, I’d much rather spend my time romancing the ladies and not running from guys locked away in the pen. Now since we’ve looked at the worse part of living a life of crime, I’ll point out the constant lack of loyalty and the large amount enemies that you may collect over time. You can look at Killing Them Softly for those and a few more examples for why this world isn’t suitable for everyone.

After taking some time to think, Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) comes up with a bright idea that can net him a decent amount of greenbacks. The low-level gangster dreams of pulling off the perfect heist on an illegal card game that’s held in secrecy for mobsters who are just looking for a good time. The plan has very few holes if any, and it would be difficult to find out who’s behind it just based on that fact. If successful, this foolproof plan would leave Johnny and his associates for this particular job completely anonymous in every way with another guy completely oblivious to any of this unknowingly waiting in the wings to take the fall.

With the plan all ready for execution, the only thing Johnny has to do is find a couple of guys that can help him. He realizes that the best way to move forward with this plan is to get Frankie (Scoot McNairy), a criminal who’s just gotten out of the “big house,” and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), a junkie with aspirations of his own business involving illegal narcotics. With both Frankie and Russell needing the money for their own reasons, the two don’t take too long to agree to the deal that will net them several thousand dollars for all of their hard work.

Obviously the robbery scene comes sooner rather than later in Killing Them Softly, but it’s also where this gangster flick legitimately takes off in my opinion. This entire scene with zero  music is done in an extensive fashion that shows what’s going down with a step by step approach. It’s brilliant, and I like it so much because it is a simple scene where not a whole lot is going on, but you just have this feeling that something is going to happen at any given moment. This creates a boatload of tension that both the audience, the thieves, the owner of this establishment Martie (Ray Liotta) and quite a few of the men in the room must feel.

While I’m watching this intense scene, my mind is running all over the place trying to get a glimpse of what is about to jump off. I don’t know if the guy sitting close to the corner is going to try something, if a guy in the back might make a move or if one of the robbers all of a sudden gets an itchy trigger finger and starts busting caps all over the room. It truly is some wonderful stuff to watch, unfortunately I can’t tell you anything else about this lovely scene, so you’re going to have to find out for yourself.

While I was watching the scene, and even after I watched it, I knew that I could be in store for a real treat. This one scene gives the impression that the audience is about to see some hard and true damage that involves bloodshed to go along with little to no sympathy being shown by the mobsters that have been violated. Up until this point Killing Them Softly reminded of a bunch of the foreign films that I’ve seen over the years, but now is when they truly have to deliver.

Well after the robbery at the underground gambling hangout for mobsters, the mafioso who are left with lighter pockets are understandably pissed off now. They want to know who did this to them and they want to know now. Because of their profession, these guys can’t just pick up the phone and call the cops. They need someone who is like a cop, but a cop that only works for mobsters whenever they call.

Enter Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), a ruthless killer who’s also extremely successful at solving crimes that take place within the criminal underworld. He generally likes to operate with precision and always has the desire to take his targets out without hearing all of the whining, crying and begging that they may do once they know their time on God’s green Earth is coming to ca quick and premature ending. In order to get this done the way he likes it, Jackie looks at his approach as his best when he’s “killing them softly.”

When the mob brings him in to find these unlawful criminals and hand down his version of justice, Jackie gets to work by planning the hits and meeting up with some people who will play a part in both the hits and the movie’s plots as well. The violence that we see from the hitman is predictably brutal. As a matter of fact, it’s essentially what I hope for in every violent movie that receives an R rating.

I just loved the brutality and the way the blood is put to use during the violence that’s placed on the screen for potential viewers. Seeing someone’s brains falling out of someone’s head like a small fountain of water or seeing someone get their face is kicked in is cool to look at when the blood is bursting and spreading around the way that it does here.  It’s not done with a sense of overkill or over-indulgence. All of it is handled in a way to make the audience feel and notice it. Put it this way, I doubt there will be too many people who will be forced to rush to the bathroom in order to clean up the popcorn that they gulped down not too long before hand.

Aside from the violence that’s in Killing Them Softly, there are some other things that I do like. While watching the film, I actually liked the dialog between many of the characters. In nearly every scene and every conversation, there’s a high level of reality seemingly beaming from whatever it is that they’re talking about. You’ll see a couple of guys talking about someone potentially getting taken like it’s perfectly normal. There’s no diabolical feeling floating around these scenes and no overacting to pass these guys off as the law breakers they are. I like this because in their world this is normal.

I also have to mention the fact that the dialog is not only positively produce with a sense of commonality, it also doesn’t forget to be funny on occasion. Just listening to what some of these guys have to say to one another is funny on more than one instance. You might not find all of it funny, but I think the chances of you smiling or laughing at least a few times is high. That’s especially true when Nicky from New York (James Gandolfini) teaches us who the best hookers in the world are.

In spite of my love for the violence in movie and the dialog that’s both engaging and funny at times, Killing Them Softly is not a perfect film by any means. While the blood and guts of the action is fantastic in nearly every way, there’s not as much of it as I thought there would be. I can’t say anything bad about the action aside from there not being more of it, and that’s the only issue that I have with that part in particular.

I also ended up being a bit disappointed when the rest of the film didn’t live up to my expectations after the robbery the subsequently lead to all of the mayhem that ensues. There’s a drop or two in quality after the heist, and although that quality never dips anywhere near low enough to the point where the film would be unwatchable, it never completely rediscovers the greatness and tension of that amazing set up like I anticipated it would.

The primary reason for that in my opinion, are the lengthy scenes involving dialog. Although I liked a good bit of it, I feel that they went a bit overboard with it. Here you have a type of action that more creators of R rated movies should take a look at, but you underutilized  that and exchanged it for a bunch of talking. Most of the talking is actually needed, but it kind of bogs a movie down that’s only a little over an hour and a half. A little less talking, and a lot more gunplay and you’re talking about me giving Killing Me Softly a higher score that I already gave it.

The setting of the film caught my attention at the start. I had a difficult time understanding where Killing Them Softly was based, but then I realized why everything was set up the way it was. Early on, you’ll notice that Scoot McNairy’s character Frankie has a clear Bostonian accent. They also have a Boston rapper named Slaine (He’s also in The Town) in the film as Kenny Gill. Based on that stuff I figured the film was set in Boston, but I had my doubts, because it didn’t look like the Boston that I grew up in.

Then when I got into researching the film, I found out that it’s set in New Orleans. So, why have the obvious Boston connections? Well, Cogan’s Trade, the 1974 novel  in which this is based on, is set in Boston. Now I understand the weird connection, but couldn’t they have just filmed it in Boston? Or maybe they could have just gotten rid of the accents. Either would have made more sense to me but whatever. It doesn’t take away the entertainment value of the film. Besides, it’s probably done this way just to their show respect toward the source material.

Another thing that I began to notice early on in Killing Them Softly is the voices of U.S. political leaders being used as a part of the overall ambience of the film.  Constantly hearing their voices and seeing their faces on a television screen allows the viewers to see that in this story, we’re nearing the end of Bush’s run as President and approaching the ascent of Barack Obama right as he was stepping to the forefront in order to become a Presidential nominee and 2008’s Presidential selection.

The use of politics in Killing Them Softly is clearly connected to the story that the film is trying to tell. Like the world of organized crime, politics can be a cutthroat business for anyone who chooses to get involved in that game. The loyalty isn’t always there, lies are told and there are plenty of people who are only looking out for themselves and no one else.

As we see in Killing Them Slightly, it’s important for the heartless inhabitants of the criminal underworld to never show anything remotely resembling compassion or sympathy when it comes down to business. In the world in which they exist, emotions like those are seen as weaknesses that can be trampled on or taken advantage of. That’s not something you need when you’re trying to make sure that someone is going to end their day being fitted for a toe tag. If you’re not careful, if you’re not careful you may be the one finding yourself resting six feet deep sooner than anticipated.

Score: 3.5/5

Rating: R

Director: Andrew Dominik

Cast:
Brad Pitt
Richard Jenkins
James Gandolfini
Ray Liotta
Scoot McNairy
Ben Mendelsohn
Vincent Curatola
Sam Shepard

Film Length: 97 minutes

Release Date: November 30, 2012

Distributor: The Weinstein Company