LAKE OCONEE — “Killing Them Softly”
Rated R (for violence, sexual references, pervasive language, and drug use).
Watching “Killing Them Softly” was killing me harshly. Never have I experienced a mob film where the sawed-off shotguns, fists and pistols did less carnage than the yappity-yappity of the characters---the difference being that the victims of such violence is the audience.
George V. Higgins wrote a novel entitled Cogan’s Trade, which was written in 1974, a time period in which the film should have remained. Instead, the “perp” of the film (writer and director), Andrew Dominik moved it up to 2008 during the election. Scene after scene is assaulted (if not kidnapped and cruelly molested) by televisions blaring about the collapsing economy (President Bush talking) and Senator Obama campaigning and eventually declaring victory. Why? Apparently Mr. Dominik wants us to know that he thinks politics is like organized crime. Not an original point, Mr. Dominik; I read it in a comic book about fifty years ago. So did my father, probably. I really don’t care, however, because with CNN blaring in the background, I wanted to whack the screen and end the painful distraction.
As for the measly plot: a small fry gangster who is in the dry-cleaning business gets an idea for a heist. He hires two morons, Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) to hold up a mob-controlled card game run by the amiable Markie (Ray Liotta). The imbeciles succeed but the big shots want to find the three weasels and kill them. But the enforcer they usually used was indisposed so they get their lawyer (Richard Jenkins) to hire Jackie (Brad Pitt) of the usual guy's crew. Consequently, Brad and the mob lawyer talk and talk and talk...about the pros and cons, the method and the price (yawn) and so on and so on. Jackie wants to kill Markie, but the mob wrings their hands…oh, the consternation---and for another scene or two they chew it over and over and over...again.
Then Mickey (James Gandolfini) is brought in to do Markie’s hit but he has turned into a fat, drunken, whore-mongering loser and has to be exited off-screen, but not without two or three painful dialogues between Jackie and Mickey.
All of the characters repelled me. Mr. Pitt needs to stop playing characters which chain smoke. The cigarette smoking is getting to be a crutch for him. And please trim your hair and beard---really---you look like a homeless refugee from---hmmm---1974. Mr. Pitt played a role he has played before and that goes for Mr. Liotta and Mr. Jenkins. No stretch of their craft there. Even Gandolfini played the same old part---just a dissipated version---close but no "attaboy" for him. The only interesting characters were Russell and Frankie but they were such revolting, unsympathetic characters that I was rooting for these two schlemiels to get killed so as to stop making me gag from just looking at them. (Perhaps that was the point---but if it was---the cinematic delivery was delivered with a blunt instrument.)
The few bits of violence on screen we have seen before and without any fresh view or method. For example, playing out the execution of one of the characters in slow motion is cliché. No points there, Mr. Dominik, sorry.
The most egregious crime with “Killing Them Softly” is the ceaseless chatter. Minor crimes include the obsession Mr. Dominik has with parading his characters about New Orleans stinking of hair grease, sweat and cigarette smoke.
The point of noir film is to have some dignity surrounded by indignity, poetry among the tone-deaf and ethics surrounded by the unethical. In fact, “Killing Them Softly” demonstrates, at the end of the film, the one character we thought had some of these positive attributes was, in fact, the crassest of them all.
I thought by killing them softly, they meant gently---with finesse; instead, they killed limply---and to us in the audience: limply.
“Killing Them Softly” earns only one bow tie out of five.