In Killing Them Softly, three men find a “foolproof” way to rob a mob-protected poker game, and in doing so cause the local crime economy to crash. The mob turns to a mafia hitman to solve their problems. Selfish people avoiding regulations for their own needs and causing economic downturn… Could it be that the movie is an allegory for certain recent financial catastrophes in America? Frankly, yes.
You may be wondering how I can be so sure. Well, the movie doesn’t just drive the point home; it bludgeons it to death. It begins with the 2008 U.S. presidential election being stylishly introduced into the backdrop during the credits. The initial interest and intrigue of this choice quickly becomes beyond blatant as talk of the numerous problems in the economy is frequently heard over the gangsters’ radio and television sets. (For some reason, every thug in this movie listens to NPR.) This is so obviously juxtaposed with the main story that the whole movie teeters on the edge of making the audience indifferent towards everything.
Fortunately, the cast and director never let that happen. The movie, starring Brad Pitt as the man tasked with finding the robbers, offers great performances across the board. Character actors Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, and James Gandolfini appear in supporting roles, and beside Pitt they provide almost enough grace, depth, and dark comedy to their characters to distract from the heavy-handed message. But as good as those veterans are, it’s Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn who steal the show as the two robbers who execute the robbery, providing plenty of laughs while doing so. The talk-heavy thriller glides along with ease thanks to its hilarious dialogue, making the very long stretches without violence or action seem all too short.
That’s not to say the action isn’t well worth the wait. It doesn’t happens often, but when heads roll, they roll in glorious fashion. Director Andrew Dominik takes tried and true tropes of the crime genre and adds his own sensibility to them. Whether it’s through bullets or beatings, he always injects his scenes with a refreshing beauty and brutality, making this movie instantly worth the price of admission. The stylistic choices throughout the movie are wonderful, and prevent it from being just a pedestrian crime thriller. Regrettably, Dominik wasn’t aided by a noteworthy plot. The story goes through the motions, never veering into a particularly interesting place or having characters make unexpected decisions.
That leaves us with an exceptionally inconsistent film. It has an uninspired plot and a far too obvious message, but it’s also beautifully shot, with great performances and even better dialogue. To be honest, my enjoyment of the strengths of the film made it hard to notice the flaws until it was over and I was able to reflect on why the movie hadn’t connected in the way the filmmakers clearly intended. So proceed cautiously, and if you can endure a profound lack of subtlety, you’ll be in for a hell of a ride. MMM