What I Watched Last Night: Killing Them Softly – 3/5

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(This is not a formal review, just a few thoughts)

Director: Andrew Dominik- he’s only done three films, the other two being Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, both of which I thought were great.

Cast: Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, Scott McNairy

I missed this in cinemas but wasn’t going to say no when I saw it for £4 in Sainsbury’s…

Killing Them Softly is set in the poverty stricken, hurricane ravaged suburbs of New Orleans and the events are accompanied with overt scathing socio-political commentary through constant use of footage from the 2008 election campaign. As small time crooks go about their business holding illegal card games and occasionally whacking one another, Obama preaches about the importance of harmony within the national/global community and makes lavish claims about the bright future of the American economy.

Some down-on their-luck geezers called Frankie and Russell decide to hold up the biggest illegal poker game in the area, run by wise guy Markie (Ray Liotta). The plan is so bad it’s good; Markie is notorious for having once arranged the robbery of his own tournament so if it happens again everyone will know it was him, proceed to kill him and move on, forgetting about the stick-up guys. They don’t get off scot-free however; Russell, being the silly smack addict that he is, brags about the job to a mate called Kenny, an associate of the recently robbed gangsters. Enter soulless killing machine Jackie (Brad Pitt) –as the Jonny Cash song used during his introduction suggests, he is a man who goes round taking names. Jackie’s job is to kill all those involved with the heist (including innocents who are nevertheless suspects) so as to demonstrate that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated in the criminal underworld, thus restoring faith in the illegal gambling market and reigniting that all important cash flow.

Andrew Dominik’s screenplay does a poor job in making any of the characters (apart from schulbby assassin Mickey, played by James Gandolfini) even somewhat likeable. This means that when the plot comes to a head for the emotional climax there is no impact. Everything looks gritty and steamy and cool but it’s all a bit low key. For me the standout moment was one of Jackie’s ‘hits’, which is executed in brilliantly crisp slow-mo from a multitude of exciting angles as glass is shattered and rain droplets ricochet off shell casings in mid-air. This scene was so bad ass that it put the movie up to a 3/5 rating single-handed.

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Kililling Them Softly smacks of pretention. The art house sensibilities are laregly detrimental, and more effort should have been placed on engaging dialogue. Going back to the overarching political message; Dominik went, way, wayy over the top with the whole money versus morality issue. He had a film plot, he decided to combine it with a relevant societal issue, he thought it was more prescient a comparison than it was and he got carried away. Killing Them Softly also contains some heavily, almost embarrassingly clichéd moments, worst of all being the use of Lou Reed’s (God rest his soul) song ‘Heroin’ as one of the characters shoots up and fades in and out of consciousness.

Killing Them Softly is hardly the best noir crime flick out there but it has decent suspense and some original, stylishly executed violence. The atmosphere, the down and dirty cinematography and plot are remarkably similar to a film of the previous year called Killer Joe (starring Matthew McCannaeSpellHisName), which is superior in every way.

This took an hour- so much for ‘just a few thoughts’!

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