Sunday, December 2, 2012

Review: Killing Them Softly

Brad Pitt's and Andrew Dominik's sophomore collaboration, "Killing Them Softly" died at the box office this weekend at the hands of vampires, James Bond, and The Great Emancipator.  I saw it in a theater of less than a dozen people and two of them walked out, likely disappointed that Mr. Pitt spent less time busting caps and more time waxing philosophic about proper etiquette among thieves and killers.  But even if it's not the story you paid to see, it's still a great story.  It’s also thematically simpler than “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”.

When an ex-con dry cleaner hires two loser thugs to rob a mob-protected poker game, it looks like a can't-miss proposition.  The guy who runs the game, Mark Trattman (Ray Liotta) actually robbed his own game before and even bragged about it.  So when it happens again the bosses will just whack Trattman and that will be that.  But is anything ever that simple?

Enter Jackie Cogan (Pitt), an enforcer who keeps things simple.  As he rolls into town, we see and hear news broadcasts of George W. Bush consoling Americans on the then-burgeoning recession and Barack Obama and John McCain selling “hope” and “strength” respectively in their bids to lead the nation.  “Killing” is not so much a crime drama as a cynical perspective of what it really means to survive and thrive in these hard times.  Jackie is no hero, or even an anti-hero.  He just wants to restore the status quo with the least possible complication.  So when one of his targets is too close as a friend, he brings in broken down fellow hitman Mickey (James Gandolfini) to do the job.  Mickey’s purpose is not so much violence as present a portrait of someone worn down and numb by a lifetime of bloodshed.  For a film with two hitmen in it, this movie is going to disappoint anyone looking for lots of action.

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