110 W. New York Ave.
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Rated R for language, violence, sexual content and adult situations
posted Dec 13, 2012 - 8:11:10pm
Did you know both a U.S. presidential election and a global recession hit in 2008? Because if you had any doubt, boy, does director Andrew Dominic have a message for you. That’s all you’ll take away from sitting through Killing Them Softly.
It’s a shame, because this crime drama could have been so much better if it wasn’t so blatant in its message and so vapid in its dialogue that the viewer almost loses what little context the plot provides. Rather than make a statement through good storytelling and interesting characterization, Dominic simply sets loose a few mob caricatures to talk about, alternately, sex and politics while TVs and radios play speeches by Barack Obama, John McCain and George W. Bush.
Two goofball kids (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) are hired to rob a mob-run poker game hosted by a gangster (Ray Liotta) with a shifty history within the crime world. But stealing from gangsters – and this is a valuable lesson – is a bad idea. The two are quickly recognized and located, and Brad Pitt gets hired to kill them (softly).
Popcorn represents how fun a film is to watch—how funny it is, how exciting the special effects are, and how enjoyable the story is on repeated viewings. The perfect popcorn movie would be one that never got stale regardless of how many times you’ve seen it.
Killing Them Softly is frustratingly almost-good. Look at that cast! Pitt, Liotta, supporting roles by James Gandolfini and Richard Jenkins! How could a gritty crime drama with that cast not be amazing?
But the characters are boring: Pitt has no defining traits other than that he likes money, and Liotta and Jenkins are mere plot devices. Gandolfini’s troubled alcoholic character is the most interesting of the four, but also the most irrelevant. It turns out McNairy’s character is the only one who is simultaneously important and likable, but he gets unfairly lost in the cast.
Andrew Dominic is clearly a skilled technical filmmaker: His shots are frequently beautiful, the scenes and sounds are edited together with an artist’s precision, and the film has some legitimately tense moments.
But Dominic directs like he’s afraid his audience will miss the point, so he foregoes nuance entirely. When the characters do heroin at one point, the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” plays in the background. At the end of the film, Pitt’s character gives a tired rant that climaxes with “America’s not a country; it’s a business,” as if underscoring half the movie with ambient speeches about economic collapse wasn’t already overkill.
Dominic clearly wants this movie to be witty, beautiful, cynical, gritty and philosophical. He wants to blow your mind, and his intentions are good, but he falls short and instead creates a forgettable film that hints at greatness. It’s frustrating: As a filmmaker, Dominic shows the right stuff, he was too close to this project, and the whole thing unravels.
Stars & Popcorn grade: 2 1/2 stars, 2 popcorn.
— Hunter serves as editor-in-chief for movie-review website Stars and Popcorn. To learn more about Stars and Popcorn, visit www.starsandpopcorn.com. Send e-mail to Hunter at email@example.com
Sponsored by Liebe Entertainment Group, Marketplace 8. Click here to see showtimes for Killing Them Softly
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