Sunday, December 9, 2012

Killing Them Softly Review

I was quite excited for Killing Them Softly.  I enjoyed Andrew Dominik’s previous film, The Assassination of Jesse James, and Brad Pitt is just fantastic in everything he’s in.  The trailers and marketing made this film seem like a heist-gone-wrong type of film.  On the surface, I suppose that’s what Softly is about, but at its core, the film is about how American crime is similar to big American businesses and how these criminals aren’t equal to one another, just as American citizens really aren’t that equal to one another.

I really wanted to like this film.  The major issue is that the political overtones and messages are hammered into us repeatedly.  Every other scene has a radio or TV playing in the background with some politician (usually Barack Obama) pontificating about America and how we’re part of one community.  One of the first shots of the film prominently features an Obama vs. McCain billboard for the 2008 election.  The final scene of the film has two characters openly discussing the political message being broadcast on the TV.  It’s just too much.  I have no problem with a film having a deeper message than what it seems, but Softly desperately wants to you “get” what it’s going for…and they go about it a little too bluntly for my taste.

This may just be a personal problem, but I was wholly confused for most of the run-time with respect to character’s names and who people were.  This is a film where title cards with character’s names on them would’ve helped when someone new was introduced.  People are throwing around names like we’ve known them for years.  When a scene of dialogue between two characters lasts for five-to-ten minutes (which happens often in this film) and is about a third character, of which I don’t know the identity, things get confusing fairly quickly.  Dillon (Sam Shephard) is mentioned quite frequently throughout the film as a big-time hit-man and I had literally no idea who this person was.  A post-film discussion with another patron (I saw the film with a friend who was equally confused as I was) lead to my finally understanding who this faceless person was…and it turns out they were in one scene, with fewer than two minutes of screen time.  Incredibly frustrating!

Softly does have some good stuff hidden underneath the political overtones.  Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini are simply fantastic in their respective hit-man roles.  Pitt’s Jackie is the younger, less jaded of the two, while Gandolfini’s Mickey has been around this business too long and seems to be constantly drunk and disillusioned.

The opening scene of the film is quite a jarring and unpleasant experience and perhaps mirrors some of the themes at play, especially with Jackie’s penchant for “killing them softly, from a distance;” he doesn’t like to get up close where emotions come to play and his job becomes unpleasant.  After a while I warmed up to the style of Softly and grew to love and appreciate the incredibly long scenes of dialogue, some shot in one take.  Gandolfini only has two scenes, both with Jackie, and the dialogue is incredibly fantastic and engaging.  Besides these two moments, three other scenes stick with me and will probably end up being some of my favorite of the year: an insanely intense card-game heist, a phenomenal slow-motion assassination, and a brutal, visceral beating that Ray Liotta’s character receives midway through the film.  See?  I actually liked something!

At the end of the day, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend Killing Them Softly.  Even if you’re a fan of American crime films a la The Departed or American Gangster you’ll probably end up being bored and confused for much of the film.  It may just be me, but I don’t think I’m in the minority on this one.  There are some moments of brilliance that shine through in the end, but the film as a whole is a little oversaturated in political themes that would’ve been better off left in the background.

Killing Them Softly is an incredibly flawed crime drama with a few redeeming qualities.

The Bearded Bullet 

No comments:

Post a Comment