Monday, 8 October 2012
FILM REVIEW: KILLING THEM SOFTLY
Adapted from a 1970s novel (Cogan's Trade) by prosecuting attorney-cum-crime novelist, George V. Higgins, Killing Them Softly is Andrew Dominik's first film since The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007), and just the second since the New Zealand-born director's 2000 debut, Chopper.
Seemingly working only when he's found a project he likes, Dominik's interests would obviously seem to lie in the realm of crime and the men who inhabit this milieu. And Killing Them Softly, updated to modern day New Orleans – post-Hurricane Katrina, in the midst of the 2008 presidential campaign, and the on-set of the global financial crisis – continues that trend.
When two low-level, low-life crims, Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), agree to pull-off a robbery of a local Mob-operated gambling den, it sends the organised crime economy of New Orleans into free fall.
In order to stabilise the economy, the powers-that-be, represented by a middle management type known only as Driver (Richard Jenkins), call on a hired gun to right the ship by finding and making an example of those responsible. That hired gun is Cogan (Brad Pitt), who in turn brings in another hired gun (James Gandolfini) to take-out the perpetrators once he's ascertained who they are.
Killing Them Softly is as cynical as it is cool. "America is a business", one character informs another during many of the film's sharply written tete-a-tetes which probably owe as much to Higgins' original text as they do to Dominik's own wit and sense of humour (not to mention a nod to the vernacular flair of the Coen brothers and Tarantino).
But as enjoyable as some of these back-and-forths are, Killing Them Softly is essentially -- and at times laboriously -- organised crime as metaphor for, and parable about the US economy. And given my disinterest in all things economics, it probably explains most of my ambivalence towards the film. While solidly directed, written (also by Dominik) and acted, Dominik's film did very little for me.
That said, the film will find a great many admirers (a high percentage of my colleagues are crushing on it), and given its pushed back release date in the U.S., the distributors are no doubt hoping for awards potential.
I'd suggest that potential is limited to Adapted Screenplay (at best), and will not include any accolades for Pitt who, admittedly, is at his best when he plays ugly, literally or figuratively – and who obviously shines under the direction of Dominik – but who, for mine, does nothing remarkable here, certainly not Oscar-worthy.
More impressive for me were Gandolfini's hit man in the midst of a mid-life crisis, and dulling the pain with liquor and ladies of the night, and Mendelsohn's crack-riddled low-level crim, so sweaty you can practically smell the desperation seeping out of his pores.
The film's title refers to Cogan's preferred method of killing: from a distance, impersonal and unemotional. And that pretty much sums up how I viewed Killing Them Softly. For all its visceral, pulpy violence and cynicism-laced humour, I felt at a remove from it all.