Great Cast But Disappointing Film
KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012/IN THEATERS) The trailers for this film had me seriously intrigued—Brad Pitt teaming again with Andrew Dominik, the down-under director who brought us “The Killing of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” with Pitt as Jesse James. That film is a true small masterpiece if I’ve ever seen one (check out my review on SML—I’m a big fan) and this one promised great actors—Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Sam Shepard—along with some snappy dialogue and some Johnny Cash tunes. Wow. That was the preview, mind you, not the movie. When you actually sit down to watch the film, what you get first are two talkative scuzzy hoods—Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn)—meeting with dry cleaner/mob guy Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) to plot a robbery. Sounds good, yes? The plan is to rob a card game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), a guy who not long ago confessed that he had robbed his own game and brought the law down on everybody. So the idea is that a second robbery will be pinned on Markie who will take the heat while the real robbers enjoy the cash. The robbery goes down as planned and this sets in motion the appearance of Brad Pitt as Jackie—a mob enforcer brought in by a suit (Richard Jenkins), who tasks him with taking out all parties involved in the robbery, including Markie and the two scuzz-bags. Jackie brings in his buddy Mickey (Gandolfini) to help but learns over time that Mickey has lost it to booze and broads, so in the end he handles it all pretty much by himself. The screenplay, written by Dominik, is based on a novel by George V. Higgins entitled “Cogan’s Trade.” Higgins famously also wrote “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” which was made into a terrific film in 1973 starring Robert Mitchum as Eddie. “Cogan’s Trade” was actually set in Boston but Dominik has moved the film to a bombed out New Orleans and insists on bringing in a message to us viewers about the downfall of America and our underbelly of money and selling out. So he updates the film to late 2008—just before Obama’s election—in the middle of the economic crisis and he adds endless over-voiced yammering about the state of our country on CNN or talk radio during scenes set in cars and bars. Do gangsters watch CNN? Is it running in your average mobster bar? Do mob guys listen to talk radio? Who knows? It seemed odd to me and off-putting. But lots in this film is that way—including rough editing, self-conscious dialogue, and plenty of slow-motion violence—a strange combination. So I can see why the film has a relatively low rating among viewers. Nonetheless, there are some fabulous performances in there (including a solo piece from Gandolfini about a woman in Florida) that make the film worth watching. Use your best judgment but don’t go out of your way for this one. Too bad. This is a seriously talented director. We’ll hope for better in the future.