Film Review : Killing Them Softly
● By Justin Buettner
A trio of amateur crooks decide to rob a high stakes gangsters card game causing a shut down of the criminal economy. The mob then hires Jackie (played by Brad Pitt) to track down the culprits and restore order. Can the three screw ups escape before Jackie finds them?
Killing Them Softly reminded me a little of last year’s film Drive. The movie has a style and tone that is artistic in quality, but the long bouts of dialogue and drama slow the pace of the film to crawl in parts. Sporadic scenes of excessive and graphic violence help break up this film built primarily upon conversations, so it is an easy conclusion that Killing Them Softly will not be a mainstream audience hit. In fact several groups of people left the showing that I attended. That is not to say the film is bad, but it is a movie for very specific tastes.
Brad Pitt is once again very good in the lead role of Jackie. Pitt seems at home in roles of confident characters. The character of Jackie is like a far more violent Rusty Ryan made famous by Pitt in the Oceans series. The supporting cast is equally strong which includes a roll call of strong character actors including Richard Jenkins and James Gandolfini. The problems in the film have nothing to do with the acting or the performances.
Director/Writer Andrew Dominik makes a film once every five or six years. It is readily apparent he has put a lot of thought into this film. The movie’s marketing tries very hard to pass Killing Them Softly off as a Quentin Tarantino styled crime film. In many aspects it does share the quirky characters and long exchanges of conversations, but unlike Tarintino these characters and conversations are not nearly as fun or interesting. Dominik seems far more interested with the idea of making the analogy of the crime to that of capitalism through the political election and events of 2008. A constant stream of political commentary runs throughout Killing Them Softly to make sure the audience catches the connection every step of the way. And just in case the audience doesn’t catch on, and I don’t know how that can be, the characters explains every step they take in painful detail. This movie would have benefitted from trusting the audience more and just showing the plans unfold. When a movie seems hell-bent on explaining every detail of the plot it comes across like the filmmakers are talking down to the audience, and that’s what happens in this film. Although I think his use of the financial meltdown and the government and political system in contrast with the modern day mob is interesting, the film’s message is delivered with a sledgehammer where a lot more subtly would have been more appropriate.
When action does occur in the film it is expertly crafted. The sound design during the card game robbery was some of the best of the year. The way the sound brings the audience into the act and high intensity of robbing a room full of mob bosses was most impressive. The artful flare that was used during the death scenes were well done too, combining slow motion, carefully placed camera angles, and an interesting array of edits really added to the effect of the violence on display. Make no mistake, when this movie decides to get violent it does, in a very graphic and intense way.
Although 85% of Killing Them Softly is built upon the characters having conversations among themselves, I was struck by how little I cared for or invested in them. What the characters talk about are not very substantive. If they are not describing the plot, they were talking about drugs, crimes and prostitution in uninteresting ways. By the time the end rolls around it is very apparent the movie does not have that much substance to offer and the bit it does it has the character of Jackie just bluntly say it as the last line of dialogue in the movie.
In the end Killing Me Softly was made for a very specific audience. The actors get as much from their roles as they can. When the movie does move into action, the scenes are done quite well. The trouble is most film goers will get bored of the endless meaningless conversations and they will not enjoy the bluntness of the political analogy the film not so elegantly makes. So while Killing Them Softly has a lot of strong attributes going for it, as a whole a general audience will not find this movie pleasing. If you are a fan of dialogue heavy independent crime dramas with just a bit of graphic violence, then you will most likely enjoy Killing Them Softly, if not then you would best avoid this film.
Film like Killing Them Softly : Drive, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Smoking Aces
Justin Buettner is Style's resident movie dude! How did he get this role? Well, he graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor of Arts in film Production and a duel minor in Animation and Business with an emphasis in the entertainment field. He later went on to work on several independent films in various key roles including writer and later worked in the special effects field as a motion capture artist. He has since relocated to the Sacramento area with his family and continues writing for small independent films in addition to his movie reviews for Style Magazine.