Killing Them Softly Reviews
The plot in this film is really very simple and pretty thin. Ray Liotta's character sets up his own poker ring operation for the loot and gets away with it scot-free. Sometime later two losers do the same thing to Liotta's poker ring and they get away with all the loot...putting Liotta's character under suspicion. Pitt's hitman character is then brought in to sort out the whole situation and find out who stuck up the poker ring for a second time. Which I might add he manages quite easily it seems.
That's the game in a nutshell and like Pitt's acting its basic. This film is semi decent yet flawed, flawed in the sense that the plot is stretched out to 1h 37min with lots of pointless dialog. Most of which bares no relation to the actual plot but just drones on. The main sequences guilty of this are the dialogs between Pitt and Gandolfini, the latter of which just goes on and on about screwing hookers whilst drinking and not much else.
To be honest the plot is half way complete early into the film, Pitt has his job to do and it doesn't need this long to watch him do it. Don't get me wrong though the acting is terrific throughout from almost all players involved...well the stars, accept Pitt. Liotta is turned from tough guy to punch bag in this mobster story and he does it well. Gandolfini looks every bit like a real mafioso head honcho year by year and does what he does best despite the meaningless rambling dialog he has and Jenkins is solid n stoic as ever.
For me this film does highlight how very average an actor Pitt is surrounded by some serious acting stalwarts. Again don't get me wrong, Pitt does OK in his role and in any less of a film he would be fine but this is a grown up mobster flick and he just doesn't match up. I'm not really too sure why they would cast the guy in this type of film really.
One sequence I don't get with Pitt's character is when he whacks one guy...but using a shotgun?! Not only that but he does it from a distance! surely shotguns aren't that effective from a distance and surely carrying out a hit this way would attract a lot of attention from say...the noise?! Not to mention the mess and damage, ah what do I know.
The other thing that bugged me was Scoot McNairy and his annoying tone of voice, the guy sounded like Shaggy outta 'Scooby Doo' for Pete's sake!! geeeez! Didn't think much of Ben Mendelsohn either really. He's an Aussie actor and plays an Aussie in the film, the guy just didn't fit into the story at all, typical US hoods and an Aussie, nah.
The profanity count is high and the violence is brutal, it may make you wince, possibly even jump at times but there isn't lots of it. As this takes place in 2008 there is also snippets from the real event of President Obama's election campaign and victory, why? I'm not so sure as it has no real relevance to the plot or its outcomes. There is a political message in here as Pitt's character states 'America's not a country, its just a business', its all about $$$.
The film is well directed whilst visually it looks slick and gritty, but its trying to hard to be a Scorsese product or trying to hard to be something unique and different. Either way it doesn't really make it mainly down to the fact there isn't much of a plot to speak of.
What follows are a lot of drawn out discussions that fail to progress the story or develop the characters in an engaging manner. The shots are uninspired, creating no tone. atmosphere, or any sense of a city collapsing under the weight of the 2008 Financial Crisis. Gangster life is as much a corporate business entity as Walmart. Movies like The Godfather and Scarface as well as TV shows like The Sopranos or Boardwalk Empire have focused on the relationship between gangsters and the economy, and they are far more insightful or intriguing than Killing Them Softly could ever hope to be.
Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) are a couple of smalltime crooks for hire. They get a job to hold up a high-stakes, mafia run, card game that's overseen by middle-man Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). As Markie has openly admitted to holding up a game in the past, he becomes the obvious suspect but something doesn't quite add up. To clear up the mess, outside enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is brought in the get to the bottom of it.
Films that fall into the crime genre will always have a certain level of expectation about them. It must be difficult for a director to try and establish a new format when there is a demand that they follow a particular formula. This adaptation of the George V. Higgins novel "Cogan's Trade" is exactly the type of film that has been criticised for it's lack of urgency and has suffered in it's comparison with previous genre classics. Personally, I admire Dominik's attempt at crafting something different here, and despite a glacial pace, I still found it gripping. This is a film that focuses less on action and more on talking and it's entirely understandable why some didn't appreciate it, but for me, the talking was the action and that's thanks to solid performances from everyone involved. Every actor is as good as the other and it's through their strong, and lengthy, exchanges of dialogue that each of them are able to shine; McNairy and Mendelsohn carry the weight of the first part of the story with two very different but equally unlikable low-life's; Liotta plays a perfect, desperate middle-man; Jenkins epitomises the business side of things and Gandolfini is a perfect display of regret and melancholia from a hit-man who's lost his touch. Ultimately, though, it's the reserved central performance from Pitt who commands. Arguably, he's got less to work with but his subtlety is key in expressing the coldness and stark reality of the business that these people operate in.
Of course - as is now expected of Dominik - he doesn't just deliver a formulaic gangster story. Instead, he infuses it with allegory and makes a social commentary on the financial state of America. Throughout the film there are, ironic, radio and television broadcasts of political speeches and discussions about the economy and reminders of how America is the land of opportunity. It's a, less than subtle, device but one that worked quite well. On slightly closer inspection, the criminals that roam this underbelly of modern America are no less disingenuous or manipulative than the politicians in office. They just happen to be conducting their business on a lesser scale. At one point Pitt's Jackie Cogan even describes his cohorts as "Corporate mentality gangsters". That aside, this is still a crime film and as a result, it's not adverse to rolling up it's sleeves and getting it's hands dirty. There may be only sporadic moments of action but when they do appear they are brutally delivered and some of the violence displayed on-screen is wince inducing.
Much like the aforementioned western collaboration between Dominik and Pitt this film dares to incorporate a sociopolitical commentary throughout it's genre. It's unconventional but very effective nonetheless and the last line of the film sums up it's theme perfectly... "America is not a country, it's just a business. Now fucking pay me."