A good crime-drama usually tries to keep the audience engaged by using bold characters in intense and dramatic settings. Director Andrew Dominik went a different route and instead we have Killing Them Softly.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by George V. Higgins, the film follows veteran mob enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) as he investigates the events surrounding a mob-run high stakes card game that was robbed by some low-level thugs sending the entire criminal underworld economy into complete disarray. These dumb thugs think that they’ve pulled off a brilliant heist, but not when Jackie’s hot on their tails.
Dominik undoubtedly intended this film to be some brilliant social commentary on the state of America and its way of life, instead it is a ham-handed mess. Set during the recent economic collapse and subsequent bailout, Dominik hits the viewer over the head with blunt imagery along with blurry visual tricks that are supposed to be profound yet just end up looking poorly made. The mundane rhythm of the story — about the political parallels between organized crime and big business politics — rings fairly true in the modern setting, but the entire film comes across in such a basic fashion that it’s actually a little insulting. In spite of this, some solid performances saved this film from complete ruin.
As Jackie, Pitt manages to let his world weary enforcer still have some likable movie star charm. He’s simply a no-nonsense man, in a landscape that doesn’t make much sense anymore. Ben Mendelsohn brings his slimy lowlife to new heights, and James Gandolfini as a directionless and emotionally adrift fellow enforcer-for-hire makes even the foulest mouthed character likable.
On the flip side of this story, we barely get any time with the likes of the wonderful Richard Jenkins and Ray Liotta along with the most obscure Sam Shepard cameo ever put to screen. The film never has time for the characters we want to see and it makes for a very uneven affair.
The film’s main problem is that the narrative ultimately gets sacrificed in service of the message. Despite a few interesting and well made moments, there is simply too much in this movie that just doesn’t work.
Cast: Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Andrew Dominik
Top image: A scene from Killing Them Softly. Courtesy Alliance Films.