Monday, June 24, 2013

Killing Them Softly

Directed by Andrew Dominik.
2012. Rated R, 97 minutes.
Scoot McNairy
Ben Mendelsohn
Vincent Curatola
Max Casella
Trevor Long
Linara Washington

When a mob run card game gets robbed, the local economy is severely affected. It pretty much comes to a halt and won’t get going again until the people responsible are dealt with. And I don’t mean by the police, either. This is where enforcer Jackie Cogan (Pitt) comes in. He promptly gets to work figuring out the issues. Of course, his taking any action requires permission he has to work through his unnamed liaison (Jenkins) to get. Meanwhile, we also watch the schmucks who did it assess the situation from their point of view.

Brad Pitt is excellent in the lead. He hits every note perfectly. His cold-blooded arrogance is difficult to look away from. The supporting cast, mostly of sporadic screen-time is wonderful, as well. Each one makes us feel what’s at stake for them more than just by the words they speak. Of course, two characters never fully understand the potential consequences, but we feel that too. There is one performance that stands head and shoulders above the rest, though. James Gandolfini as overly seasoned vet hit-man Mickey is absolutely fantastic. He’s a very bad guy with a bad attitude and some serious personal problems. Somehow, the actor crafts him into someone we feel sorry for in spite of who and what he is. He commands your attention whenever he’s on screen, even away from Pitt.

This is not a movie heavy on action. However, what is there is visually arresting. Unfortunately for him, Markie (Liotta) is on the receiving end of two of these scenes. One is spectacularly brutal and the other is an amazing slo-mo sequence. Other than that latter scene, all of the action has an real feel to it. I’ll admit to flinching once or twice.

As great as the performances and  the visuals are, the hardly concealed subtext has to be addressed. The movie is set during the financial crisis that marred the final days of George W. Bush’s presidency and set the table for Barack Obama’s. Just so you don’t forget this, political news is constantly used as background noise, either on television or radio. From time to time, the focus even shifts directly to it. It comes across as totally cynical and, perhaps, a way right leaning view on America. It’s possible I could be misreading the latter, but not the former. It’s fairly clear that everything happening on the screen is a metaphor for what went on in late 2008. In case somehow, after an hour and a half, you’re not so sure this movie isn't too excited about the country’s future, it’s last spoken line will confirm it for you. For some, it might decide whether or not you like the film.

For me, the last line doesn't dictate either as I figured out that was the movie’s outlook early on. Regardless of whether I agree or not, Killing Them Softly is a fascinating experience with a different take on the mafia and how it operates, presenting them more symbollically than anything else. I rather enjoyed it. Sadly, I was disappointed that despite the movie’s title, we never get to hear Roberta Flack’s nor The Fugees’, or anyone’s rendition of the classic song from which it is derived. Hmph.

(Note: I’m generally a little slow getting reviews up. Depending on what’s going on in real life, it usually takes me three or four days to write a review and get it posted, but it can be over a week. This is my hobby, not my job. Yet. I only mention this because I actually watched this and had the review hand-written a few days before the passing of one of this movie’s stars, James Gandolfini. He was an amazing talent that I’ve praised in other reviews and, of course, he IS Tony Soprano. That said, I really do think his performance in this movie is amazing and I’m not just saying nice things because he’s recently deceased.)

MY SCORE: 8/10   

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