Movie Review: Killing Them Softly
In 1993, Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance instantaneously humanized both a quirky stoner played by Brad Pitt and a violent assassin portrayed by James Gandolfini. Six years later, David Chase used Gandolfini again to help America fall in love with The Sopranos, blending the nuances of upper-class suburbia with the chilling realities of being a Mafia Boss, always juxtaposing humor and horror, love and anger. Fast forward to 2012, and writer/director Andrew Dominik uses these familiar faces in Killing Them Softly. Unfortunately, this reunion of talent falls hopelessly short, and Dominik completely whiffs in his attempt to modernize the Mafia.
It begins oddly, in 2008, with flashes of a vagabond character roaming some urban debris, interrupted by credits and sounds of Barack Obama’s economic vision of promise for the future. This political rhetoric sustains throughout the film, disconnected, and sets the tone for some semblance of a plot: There’s a looming recession, the country’s in flux, and the mob is having to adjust the way it does business and enforce its authority.
Enter consigliore (Richard Jennings) and hitman (Brad Pitt) to clean up a mess left from the successful heist of a poker game hosted by small-time gangster Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). Pitt enlists his washed-up buddy James Gandolfini to help him off the perpetrators, allowing the visual and verbal clichés to ensue. Regrettably, Killing has them all. Blood, beatings, bestiality, hookers, heroin, and hangovers. They’re all here in a regurgitated symphony of everything sinister.
And it’s a complete mess. When it attempts to be funny, it feels tried. When it attempts to be gory, it feels sterile. And when it attempts to be profound, it feels ridiculous. Killing ends just as strangely as it begins, and only accomplishes a yearning for the creativity of successful crime dramas of the past. Dominik pulls out all the trite seediness of underground commerce but never really endears his characters. The story moves along sporadically, with more that a few ‘WTF?’ moments along the way. Alas, the motivation is always money, and in the end, Pitt proclaims that, ”America is not a country. It’s a business.”
With that notion, Killing Them Softly does indeed actualize an industrialized, sham effect. I felt used, victim to a retreaded racket-themed movie, with descending actors and glitzy effects, all in an attempt to get my paid admission. After all, Dominik is correct. It’s just a business…