Movie review: Killing Them Softly

December 6, 2012


I like mob movies, all kinds of mob movies. Everything from The Departed (2006) to Scarface (1983), all the way back to The Big Sleep (1946). Killing Them Softly is not like those movies. It doesn’t have the heavy drip of drama or the pretty, deadly girl. As a matter of fact, I think Brad Pitt takes the longest hair award. Oh, wait, no. There’s a hooker, but she’s not threatening or that pretty or even relevant to the story.

The story, such as it is, follows the fallout of some idiot flunkies knocking over a mafia-run card game. Jackie Cogan (Pitt) is called in by the mysterious Dillon to dispose of the men who took the mob money. Cogan feels like he needs an additional hit man, Mickey (James Gandolfini), called in to help keep things clean because Cogan knows one of the targets.

The closest thing to a problem in Killing Them Softly arises when Cogan realizes his buddy Mickey is too drunk and spent to do anything requiring eyesight. The resolution? Cogan takes care of business himself.

There is no internal conflict within the characters. Zero. No second thoughts and no outward emotions, except of course the tears on the face of the guy getting his gizzard beat out. He’s upset. Otherwise it’s like watching a machine work. Pitt does a piercing job of being heartless. He is, once or twice, funny, which is a nice reprieve from the gloom of it all. Everyone else is one-note. Even James Gandolfini, usually pretty magnetic and compelling, makes you want to wash your hands of his misery and self-loathing. It is depressing.

The overreaching concept that hammers Killing Them Softly into an almost intolerable mess is the constant reel of the 2008 election audio and imagery. The director/writer, New Zealander Andrew Dominik, obviously does not care much for American politics and didn’t like the financial catastrophe that occurred around that time. Then again, who enjoys watching their retirement wash away almost overnight? As the financial bubble did burst, who wants to be reminded about it while watching what had appeared to be a gangster flick?

I have read around that only ‘intellectuals’ will get this movie. Anyone with ears and a bank account can ‘get’ this movie. I believe Killing Them Softly started as a high concept film that evaporated and left us with a condensed, gummy mess of a commentary that strangled the mob movie.

What I am saying is please save your dollar bills for a nice bottle of wine or perhaps a gourmet treat. Killing Them Softly does nothing so nice for the audience.


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Nice review, Miranda. I was torn with the trailers – should I see it or not? I’ll probably wait until video for this one, if that. I’m not a big mob movie guy (more of a Se7en type).

Again, nice review, thank you!