* Prices may differ from that shown
Star - Brad Pitt
Genre - Crime
County - USA
Certificate - 18R
Run Time - 97 minutes
Blockbusters - £.0 per night rental
Amazon - £10.00 DVD (£12.00 Blue Ray)
Jackie Cogan: They cry, they plead, they beg, they pi** themselves, they cry for their mothers. It gets embarrassing. I like to kill 'em softly. From a distance
The wiser movie buffs out there will have a well researched list of new films they would be prepared to pay the top rental price for at Blockbuster (currently £3.50 per night), letting their less favored films drop down the pricing structure before they rent. There is certain satisfaction in doing it that way. For instance, tomorrow I will rent 'The Grey' with Liam Neeson for its £2 per night price, the bottom but one level, what I think its worth. Killing Me Softly, on the other hand, has been firmly placed in that premium bracket by Blockbuster, its dust cover machine gunned with four and five star ratings from broadsheets and film magazine reviews alike suggesting it deserves to be there. With Brad Pitt and a cool macho cast alongside, everything points to this mob movie being a good rent. But Blockbuster and the big studios will do there best to dictate your new release favorites with rather spurious methods, including that Blockbuster top ten chart, seemingly based on a mix of hype, great cinema box office and pure guesswork. How, exactly, can a brand new movie go into the rental chart at number one on its first week if no one has rented it? For female renters this trickery is not a problem as they simply talk their boyfriend or hubby into picking the movie he doesn't particularly want to see but she does, often going by the pretty cover or the likewise male actor on the front, and if its rubbish, blame their other half for choosing it, a bloody cheek as they have been ogling Mark Rufallo all the way through it. But for Killing Me Softly, very much a boy's film, there is no doubt it has been placed in the chart only because Bradd Pitt is in it, supposedly because he is giving one of his best performances. It's almost as if all concerned have decided this film is top ten stuff before they made it, regardless of how good it turns out, a certain industry arrogance on show for this one. Hype is the biggest player in the movie industry.
Directed by Andrew Dominik, Killing Them Softly is based on a little known 1970s neo noir crime thriller 'Cogan's Trade', by author George Higgins, adapting his simple gangster tale as a screenplay to try and capture America's recent financial collapse through a criminal lens, a good idea in theory but rather ambitious, as proved the case. It must have been a 'hey presto' moment for the director to explore the idea but the rabbit didn't come out of the hat.
Brad Pitt ... Jackie
Scoot McNairy ... Frankie
Ben Mendelsohn ... Russell
James Gandolfini ... Mickey
Richard Jenkins ... Driver
Vincent Curatola ... Johnny Amato
Ray Liotta ... Markie Trattman
Trevor Long ... Steve Caprio
Max Casella ... Barry Caprio
Sam Shepard ... Dillon
=== The Plot ===
Local crime boss Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) has tasked small time hoods 'Frankie' (Scoot McNairy) and 'Russ' (Ben Mendelsohn) to knock over a mob card game, an easy fifty grand score. Because the guy who runs it, a one Markie 'The Face' Trattman (Ray Liotta), had previously knocked off his own game from under a balaclava and bragged about it, it is he who will be under suspicion, not Johnny's crew.
As clever as the plan sounds, and the boys pulling it off with relative ease, it soon unwinds, the heists killing off any future games and so the local mobs profits tumbling. Something has to be done to restore confidence and so that means the two have to go down, plus Trattman and Johnny Amato, even though Trattman didn't do this one.
So enter Jackie (Brad Pitt), a fixer sent down to sort things, having to whack all four guys at the last as the hitman he picked from Jersey to help do the job, 'Mickey' (James Gandolfini), is not the man he once was and a bit of a drunk. Jackie prefers to whack them softly and likes separation from killing people he knows, like Trattman, but with Mickey a no go he has lot of planning ahead. A message has to be sent to the street that you don't mess with the poker games and the local crime economy, all this as America collapses around them from the 2008 financial crisis.
=== Results ===
Killing Them Softly would like to be Pulp Fiction meets Get Shorty but it isn't and if you want to play Tarantino with your typewriter mate you have got to get it right. As annoying as he is, Quentin has all the bases covered in the crime noir genre, Killing Them Softly sadly falling short. It started ok and I settled into the premise with anticipation but once the actors start lingering on the rather forced hip and cool snappy dialogue scenes trying to look Reservoir Dogs and it gets a stitch and all ends up all rather boring. There's barely half an hour of a movie here if we are honest and as stretched as Joan Rivers face. One special effect super slow motion scene shot like a sports reply was clearly inserted to fill those gaping gaps.
For it s $15 million budget it did $35 million back, punters drawn in by the excellent early write ups and strong cast. But this is not a career defining performance by Bradd Pitt, anything but, a man that never convinces as a killer or hard nut in movies, and his performance certainly not in the class of Fight Club. The guy from the Sci-Fi film Monster is ok as the nervous hood awaiting his fete but Ben Mendelsohn as the coke head bandit doesn't work at all. James Gandolfini has willingly typecast himself as the flawed mobster and his role here somewhat annoying as he leaves the film just as you thought it was going to get good with him in it, almost as if the producer didn't pay him and he left.
The misfire here is that the writer and director become so intent on hammering home the parallels between the economic decay of the last decade, political disappointments and petty criminals, there is simply nothing soft, or subtle about it all. Barak Obama and George Bush's constant speeches layered on top force the point too much, just in case you missed it, and you feel like you do with most American movies that the director doesn't trust you enough to get it and his metaphor. I suppose you could draw parallels with Iraq in that Bush knew Saudi Arabia were responsible for 911 and so hit Iraq instead because the Saudis were too powerful to take that blame. A message had to be sent to the Middle East and so pick on the weakest that won't punch you back. That's what bullies do. At the end of the day the director has simply wasted a good cast here with an uninspiring Reservoir Dogs copy. The eighties and nineties were the glory years for mob movies and I can't recall seeing a decent one since Donnie Brasco. As I have said before in other film reviews, the mobsters of today in America are not those romanticized Italian Americans but Hispanics, Eastern European and Russians, still too touchy a subject to make those films unless they are tongue-in-cheek with Steven Segal in them.
=== Ratings ===
Imdb.com - 6.4/10.0 (53,245 votes)
Metacritc.com - 64% critic's approval rating
Rottentomatos.com - 76% critic's approval rating
New York Times -'The movie is more concerned with conjuring an aura of meaningfulness than with actually meaning anything.
The Standard -'There are many cinematic cardinal sins, but the latest film from Aussie director Andrew Dominik commits two of the big ones - Don't Be Boring and Don't Waste A Great Cast'.
Cinema Weekly -'A noir-ish crime drama with a brain, and despite its flaws and inconsistencies, a film worth seeing. Dominik remains a filmmaker to watch'.
Film4 -'Complex and problematic in a rather wonderful way, Killing Them Softly has flaws more interesting than some film's perfections'.
The Times -'Good actors and unimpeachable source material hampered by faulty chatter, leading to thumb-twiddling'.
The SUN -'Killing Them Softly positions itself as a heady piece of entertainment, but it's ultimately no more intelligent than The Pet Dog'.
Killing Them Softly - Film only review
When I think of movies that I have enjoyed for the direction as much as the plot or storyline there are a few that come to mind; Scorsese's legendary steady cam shot and slow motion shots in 'Goodfellas', Tarantino's use of layering in the 'Kill Bill' movies, Alfred Hitchcock's use of light and shadow to create suspense in 'Psycho' and too many Spike Lee, Tom Tykwer and Pedro Almodovar movies to mention. From the very first time I saw 'Cinema Paradiso' I fell in love with film and its direction.
So, to be honest, when I popped this on my popcorn player I wasn't expecting anything apart from a mildly entertaining foray into the world of organised or more likely disorganised crime. All I knew was that it starred Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini and knew little else about the movie, including who had directed or written it. Before I get into my thoughts on the movie, let's take a look at the plot.
Frankie (Scoot McNairy) is an ex-con looking to get back on his feet, He is not the most unsavoury character you could ever meet but he is no angel either. Times are hard and the economy is taking a nose-dive. Obama is making his 'Yes we can' speech all over the United States. So, when small-time gangster Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) comes up with a brainwave on holding up a card game held by fellow mobster Marky Trattman (Ray Liotta), Frankie agrees. Amato asks Frankie to get himself an accomplice to carry out the job. Amato has chosen Trattman's game because Trattman once held up his own game so if it happens again, suspicion will fall on him. Unfortunately, Frankie chooses an accomplice in the form of a heroin-addict drop-out named Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), who proves to be the weak link that eventually lands the three crooks in trouble and on a hit-list that is pursued by enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt). Jackie is a cool, cold and calculated killer that no one would ever dream of crossing. Pitt plays this part with a slight hint of humour in a black-comedy sort of role that is taught with menace. He is a criminal that is fed up to the back teeth of what has become of his profession and intends to put things right in more ways than one.
I thought this movie was brilliantly directed and I am not just talking about the clever use of several cameras and a load of cool and trendy trademark techniques. The way the film is shot as a whole is superb. From the very first scenes you know that you are in for a cinematic treat, at least in celluloid terms. In an early scene Russel is walking a small dog along the footpath to meet Frankie and the street is steeped in dry tones and a hint of sepia that really gives it that dawn mood. This becomes more evident as he walks up towards a traffic light which is on red and the red just splits the whole scene and you appreciate just what a great shot it is.
It is blatantly obvious that the director, Andrew Dominik is indulging himself through his work and what we get is a movie that is steeped in craft and a piece of film that could easily be described as a piece of art. There are a lot of Tarantinoesque shots and scenes but only in the sense that they are both artful and powerful, not to mention realistic. The dialogue is more serious than Tarantino's in that the characters are more grounded in reality than a Reservoir Dog, a Vincent or a Jules.
That is one of the great things about this movie; the fact that the dialogue is so serious kind of makes it even more earth shatteringly beautiful when the scene takes on a directive dive into creativity.
Andrew Dominik has of course worked with Brad Pitt before in 'The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford' and this is not lost on Pitt's pull in this movie.
So what did I think of the film. Well as far as it goes I quite liked it. It kept me interested and the direction was good enough to make that happen regardless of the plot. These gangster/criminal type movies are ten to a penny but if you're expecting an out and out gangster flick then you will be sorely disappointed. I think many viewers were or will be drawn in by the trailer as it does indeed make it look like one of those types of films but nothing could be further from the truth.
Pitt plays it cool and nonchalant in his role and it works. He makes Jackie seem almost frightening in his matter of fact look at the world and his way of going about business that most of us would find sickening. He puts in another solid performance but I expected nothing less as Pitt has to be one of the best actors around at the minute.
James Gandolfini plays a cringe-worthy has been hit man to a tee and the lead role of Frankie by Scott McNairy is played by an actor who was seemingly punching above his weight but ended the movie with credibility. He so reminded me of a young Mickey Rourke in this movie with a little Bruce Willis thrown in. He pulls off the role excellently as does his supporting actor Ben Mendelsohn as the annoying and desperate Russel.
Ray Liotta plays the sleazy yet somehow likeable Trattman well and the scene where he gets beaten up is quite hard hitting.
The script was written by Dominik and based on the novel 'Cogan's Trade' by George V. Higgins. It is cleverly adapted and quite witty in parts and I enjoyed rolling along with it to the next master class in direction.
Playing as a back drop to the whole movie is Obama's speech and the lead up to his election as President. Pitt's character adds to this and we get some political banter and some world issues thrown into the mix of hit men and criminals. So, as I mentioned already, if you're after an out and out gangster movie then this really isn't for you.
I would recommend it and I quite enjoyed the movie but I don't feel that many will agree with me but I can only hope that people give it a fair chance as the direction alone makes it worth watching.
Four out of five stars from me, mainly due to the direction and script writing and a good cast of actors.