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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Killing Them Softly Movie Review

For my money, nothing beats a good gangster flick. And when I saw the cast of "Killing Them Softly" I really thought that all the dominoes were correctly positioned for a possible mega-gangster fest. Instead, Andrew Dominik's entry in the genre is a mechanical, stiff, and thoroughly artificial mess.

For some reason that is never made quite clear, Dominik wishes to draw a parallel between the mob and politics, specifically the days leading up to the 2008 presidential election. The references to the election are cumbersome and unnecessary. Aside from a throwaway line by Jackie, the hit man (Brad Pitt), all of the political references play on televisions in the background of scenes where the criminals are hatching and enacting their plans. These scenes are so distracting that one wonders if the script was never read before it was put to screen.

Right from its beginning Dominik tries to smack us in the face with violence and unspeakably bloody acts. About halfway through we almost grow numb to the violence. It is impossible to be totally numb because Dominik tries his very best to make each bloody scene more repulsive than the one that preceded it. Since Dominik has already shown great talent with his "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" it is a mystery why he fails so miserably here. Perhaps he wanted to make a film like "Raging Bull", one he reportedly loves.

Two bottom-of-the-barrel criminals are hired to rob a mob-protected poker game. The idea is that everyone will think that Markie (Ray Liotta), the guy who runs the game, will take the fall because he once robbed his own poker game. The two guys hired for the task are the types you wouldn't hire to sell flowers on a street corner.

After the robbery, Driver (Richard Jenkins), who works for the mob, contacts Jackie to figure out who pulled off the heist. Jackie is fairly bright, at least compared to everyone else here. He's a no-nonsense type and he wants to kill Markie even though they know he didn't do it. Then again, Jackie has no problem killing anyone for the slightest reason. He is not a psycho. He just wants to kill whoever needs killing and be on his way with his cash. Actually, Jackie doesn't like killing people up close, especially if he knows the guy - and he knows one of these guys. Enter Mickey (James Gandolfini), another hit man from out of town. Mickey is a drunken and inefficient version of Tony Soprano. This is a role Mr. Gandolfini should have avoided unless he never wants to break free from his landmark character.

Lots of killing happens, but none of it is very artful. It's mostly splattering brains and bloody walls. Nothing here is worthwhile except for looking at a lot of great actors trying their best to make us care. Among its many problems is that not a single soul is the least bit likeable. The trick of a good gangster flick is for the audience to somehow like at least part of a character, even if he is the most miserable SOB to ever walk the streets. Gandolfini has done it before. Liotta has done it before. "Killing Them Softly" is in reality killing people loudly and bloodily. The worst part is you won't care who dies as long as you get to exit when it's over, if you make it to the end.

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