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Old 12-01-2012, 12:45 AM   #1
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Default Killing Them Softly - Review Thread

Killing Them Softly



Andrew Dominik's third feature is an interesting, often entertaining but also frustrating crime thriller which reunites the Australian film-maker with Jesse James star Brad Pitt. The film features severe brutality and wonderful performances but the elements that should have stayed in the subtext are beaten into the audience as much as much the hapless characters.

Adapted from George V. Higgins' novel and set in New Orleans against the back drop of the Wall Street Banking Crisis and the 2008 Presidential election, Killing them Softly is a crime thriller with a socio-economic message not so much on its sleeve but carved on its forehead. Scoot McNairy (Monsters) and Ben Mendelsohn (last seen in The Dark Knight Rises) play two naïve crooks who agree to rob a Mob-protected high stakes poker game for a local small time gangster named the Squirrel (The Sopranos' Vincent Curatola). The bosses suspect Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), the game's manager who is more guilty for his negligence than his complicity. Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), an efficient and clinical hit man is brought in by a mysterious lawyer (the ever great Richard Jenkins) - with connections to an unidentified network of authorities inside and out of the underworld - to clean up the entire mess.

Dominik seems to relish in deconstructing audiences perceptions of gangster-genre veterans such as James Gandolfini, Curatola, and Liotta. The three are somewhat weak characters who are simply small fish in a very big and dangerous pond. Liotta particularly is a quivering, cowering tragic character – completely removed from the swagger he exemplified in Goodfellas. Gandolfini too retains some of his magnetic threatening persona but he is a hit man with a broken heart and a broke n liver from his alcoholism and penchant for prostitutes. The rest of the supporting cast is superb with Sam Shephard, Richard Jenkins and Slaine (seen in Ben Affleck's The Town and Gone Baby Gone) all delivering strong but all-to-brief contributions to the film. Pitt is maintaining his consistency with another confident and compelling performance. He imbues Cogan with empathy – exemplified by his tact of assassinating his targets "softly" – yet he is direct and unyielding in his objectives. His speech at the climax of the movie set against Barack Obama's election victory speech is electrifying and among Pitt's finest work.

Killing them Softly is a violent film. The beatings are rough and severe and you feel every punch – every broken tooth, every crack in the jaw, every smashed nose. The gunshots are loud and frightening. The gangster life is in no way romantic or glamorous. It's a kill or be killed environment and those who hesitate to be ruthless and driven in their mission are victims. It's a Darwinian environment where "hope" and "change" are just words printed on dilapidated billboards.

The plot of the film is very simple but Dominik rather slows down the action and focus on the characters. It's almost surprising the film ends when it does as one does not know what to expect or where the story is heading. There is an uncertainty in the pacing of the film that is quite apparent. Furthermore, rumours that Dominik's original cut was 2 and half hours (the finished film is a brisk 97 minutes) give weight to the belief that Dominik had much more ambitious plans. It's easy to speculate about the reasons for such a massive cut to footage (studio pressure perhaps) but Dominik seems to mistrust his audience to "get" the sub textual themes and motifs. It's painfully apparent that the heist and subsequent fallout is an allegory for the Economic Crisis and the cutthroat crime underworld is not dissimilar to corporate America. Dominik doesn't believe in understated or subtlety but Killing them Softly is an entertaining ride nonetheless. One cannot help ponder whether this film was destined for something much, much more.

***/*****
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Dark Knights Rises has its problems but its not garbage. **** like Scary Movie is garbage. Cheaply made with little artistic merit.

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Old 12-01-2012, 06:45 AM   #2
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I'm curious, SS, do you put your reviews on any other websites? Because I've seen it before here: http://whatculture.com/film/killing-...onetheless.php
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Old 12-01-2012, 10:05 AM   #3
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This movie got an "F" CinemaScore. By comparison, Red Dawn got a "B". Word of mouth is terrible right now.
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Old 12-01-2012, 11:17 AM   #4
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It's not that bad...

Also Deexan, I've now hit up a couple of other outlets. I'm working my way up so i can do this full time... Time will tell

If you guys lived in Detroit I would tell you guys my edited reviews on TDN outlet but no one does sadly...
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Dark Knights Rises has its problems but its not garbage. **** like Scary Movie is garbage. Cheaply made with little artistic merit.

All those others had ambition poured into them. That alone makes them worthy of at least considering their strengths and weaknesses.

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Old 12-01-2012, 12:20 PM   #5
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I see. I just thought it odd that the review on there was posted so long ago.
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Old 12-01-2012, 12:35 PM   #6
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I'm still really excited for this. Love Andrew Dominick.
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Old 12-01-2012, 04:30 PM   #7
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I'm still really excited for this. Love Andrew Dominick.
Same. I'm seeing this mostly because of how much I loved The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. It's in my top 5 from the previous decade. Now, Chopper? Didn't dig that so much, no matter how good Bana was...
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Old 12-01-2012, 06:02 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sshuttari View Post
It's not that bad...

Also Deexan, I've now hit up a couple of other outlets. I'm working my way up so i can do this full time... Time will tell

If you guys lived in Detroit I would tell you guys my edited reviews on TDN outlet but no one does sadly...
Why do you go by different "real names" in some of your reviews? And why did you wait so long to post it here?
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Old 12-01-2012, 06:12 PM   #9
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I thought this looked pretty good. The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford was great, in spite of the annoying narration. I haven't seen Chopper, however.
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Old 12-01-2012, 08:23 PM   #10
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Why do you go by different "real names" in some of your reviews? And why did you wait so long to post it here?
No offense, sshuttari, but it does seem kind of...suspicious. But, then again, I believe you, because no way you'd post a review that would be so easy to find, as Mr. Deexan has shown us, and he IS a brit, after all....
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Old 12-02-2012, 04:39 AM   #11
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Old 12-02-2012, 11:13 AM   #12
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wow an f cinema score. that is impressive.
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Old 12-02-2012, 07:55 PM   #13
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Touche, Cumberbatch. Touche.
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Old 12-03-2012, 07:23 PM   #14
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Elementary, my dear Landers.
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Old 12-03-2012, 07:38 PM   #15
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Alex Cross received an "A" on CinemaScore, so take that as you will.
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Old 12-07-2012, 12:14 PM   #16
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Why do you go by different "real names" in some of your reviews? And why did you wait so long to post it here?
No response for this? I'm curious.
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Old 12-07-2012, 01:07 PM   #17
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Killing Them Softly is very reminiscent of this year’s Lawless. Both films are directed by Aussie filmmakers (Softly by Andrew Dominik, Lawless by John Hillcoat) trying to break into a more mainstream audience with a seemingly more commercial effort. Both directors are known for their previous films being dark and morally ambiguous. Both have directed a revisionist Western and both reused talent from their Westerns in their 2012 efforts. And Killing Them Softly, like Lawless, can be seen as a good film but also a mild disappointment.

Mickey Trattman (Ray Liotta) is a professional criminal who runs a high stakes poker game. Years ago, Trattman decided to rob his own game. The incident has been forgiven but not forgotten, prompting small-time criminal Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) to hire some small time hoods to knock over the game, assuming the mob will just blame Trattman. Instead, the mob decides to bring in hitman Jackie Coogan (Brad Pitt) to sort things out.

My plot synopsis is a little inaccurate since I made no mention of the U.S. financial crisis from 2008. Despite having no direct connection to the plot, Andrew Dominik feels the need to constantly shove the financial crisis down the viewer’s throat. I had problems with the lack of subtlety in films like The Dark Knight Rises and Flight, but Killing Them Softly takes things to a whole other level. There are scenes where the camera will focus on a TV set during a news broadcast related to U.S. finances. Nothing else is going on in the frame either, it’s literally just politics smacking the audience in the face.

The script here is quite problematic. Certain scenes drag on with nothing actually happening. I wouldn’t mind except the dialogue in those parts is not very well-written. It isn’t bad really, but it isn’t good enough to justify nothing happening. That said, there is some genuinely good dialogue here too. Most of Jackie Coogan’s lines are chilling and badass, and I especially loved his speech about “killing them softly”.

Like I said in my opening paragraph, Killing Them Softly is a good film so I should probably bring attention to the things I did like. Well, the acting is pretty good throughout. Brad Pitt’s Jackie Coogan is a total badass and his presence adds a lot to the film. I doubt the role was much of a challenge for Pitt, but he’s good all the same. James Gandolfini does a great job as the aging mobster clearly past his prime, and Richard Jenkins is good as essentially a pencil pusher for the mob. Making a big impression in my opinion is Ray Liotta who creates a very likable and sympathetic character with very little screen time.

Andrew Dominik employs some really unique directorial flourishes throughout. I’m not sure why he made some of the choices he did, but I admired them all the same. Highlights include an unconventional opening, a drug trip, and a brutal slow motion assassination. Speaking of brutal, I should mention the violence here is pretty gruesome. It’s not David Cronenberg levels of depravity, but it’s not too far off either. I will also say I do find the themes the film explores interesting despite the heavy handedness.

To circle back to my Lawless comparison, I will say that Killing Them Softly is a superior film and less disappointing. Mainly because the core flaw of Lawless is the film plays everything too safe. It’s a very conventional film. On the other hand, Killing Them Softly is a very unconventional and daring film which takes huge risks. The problem is that a lot of the choices made don’t work. Overall, Andrew Dominik’s previous film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is far superior, but Killing Them Softly is still an enjoyable film which I respect greatly for its ambition.

Rating: B+
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Old 12-08-2012, 08:49 PM   #18
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Saw this a good while back and was not impressed at all, but I wasn't a fan of Jesse James so take that as you will.

The scene in Gandolfini's hotel room seemed too go on for a year and provided nothing too the story whatsoever. It was at that point when I started wishing the film would end or something would happen too the screen so I could get a refund.....
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Old 12-16-2012, 03:24 PM   #19
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Killing Them Softly(12/4/2012)
In retrospect, it’s only natural that the careers of directors John Hillcoat and Andrew Dominik would be linked. Both filmmakers hail from Australia, both deal with issues of violence, and both seem fascinated with the United States and specifically the Wild West. The link finally solidified in 2012 when both filmmakers debuted crime epics financed by the Weinstein Company at the same Cannes Film Festival, and both saw their respective films receive lukewarm receptions. John Hillcoat at least had the dignity of seeing his flawed crime film, Lawless, released in early September where it was able to at least get some attention as the one decent release that week. Andrew Dominik’s project, Killing Them Softly, has instead been unceremoniously dumped without any marketing or attention in the middle of award season when there are dozens of other projects stealing its spotlight. Does Dominik’s film deserve this fate? Certainly not, it’s an interesting film any way you cut it, but is it interesting enough?

When I left the film I was instantly ready to say it reminded me of a 1973 film called The Friends of Eddie Coyle in its tone and worldview. Then I went online and learned that the film was based on a novel called “Cogan’s Trade” by George V. Higgins, who as it turns out was also the author of the novel upon which The Friends of Eddie Coyle was based. Like that film, this appears to be set in Boston (although the film was shot in New Orleans and is deliberately vague about this setting) and inhabits the world of mid-level criminals. The film opens with a couple of crooks named Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) conspiring with an older crime figure named Johnny "The Squirrel" Amato (Vincent Curatola) to rob an underground card game, knowing that the criminals at the game were likely to blame the game’s overseer Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), who they know has had games like this robbed before. They go through with their plot, and it sends the underworld into chaos. Knowing that they need restore order, the mafia (who speak through a frustrated delegate played by Richard Jenkins) decide to call in Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), who is a “fixer” in the tradition of Pulp Fiction’s “The Wolf” in order to straighten things out with deadly efficiency.

It would seem that the criminals within the fiction of George V. Higgins are the polar opposites of the loyal “code-following” gangsters that inhabit the rest of crime fiction. In his work the outlaws are vicious scumbags who you wouldn’t want to spend a minute with in real life and who will most likely sell you out for a nickel. If there was anything to be learned from The Friends of Eddie Coyle it’s that the concept of “friendship” among criminals is a joke. People in the underworld may claim that they’re your friend, but when the chips are down they’ll sell you out in a minute and if you trust in their loyalty you’re a fool. That’s very true in Killing Them Softly as well, but here Andrew Dominick has extended this worldview beyond the underclass of obvious hoodlums and into the wider confines of American society.

He’s done this by setting all of the film’s action against the backdrop of the 2008 stock market crisis and the following election. Throughout the movie we hear news reports from that period playing in the background of almost every major scene and between the action we hear some of the gangsters give their two cents about the various issues. Meanwhile, elements of the story seem to mirror the economic crisis in certain ways. Most notably in that it’s a story about a crisis within a financially driven (albeit illegal) community and the characters in the film are more interested in punishing a handful of scapegoats than they are in correcting the underlying issues that led to the crisis in the first place. Absolutely none of this political material is even a little bit subtle, most of it is discussed right out in the open and that is going to be a sticking point for many viewers. I’m not even sure how I felt about all of it either, but I am glad that Andrew Dominik at least tried to make a sort of grand statement with the film and he easily could have bungled it a lot worse than he did.

All the modern political parallels also hopefully won’t distract from how well the film works as a straightforward throwback to 1970s crime cinema. Aside from one interesting but somewhat out of place slow motion shooting, all the violence here is quick and brutal, certainly not for the squeamish. What’s even more shocking at times is just how unpleasant many of the film’s characters can be. The script is filled with interesting conversations that really just have you glued to the screen. The highlight is probably a pair of long scenes where Cogan meets with an out of town hitman named Mickey (James Gandolfini) and has a couple of long conversations which barely advance the plot but which go to show just how corrupt and decadent the underworld has become, it seems like a domain that has been rotting from within for decades. Dominick also gets really strong performances out of lesser known actors like Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn, but I’m not so thrilled with his decision to cast Brad Pitt in the film’s central role of Jackie Cogan. On paper, Cogan is as much a scumbag as everyone else in the film, but as played by Brad Pitt he’s larger than life; he dresses slick, has a well groomed goatee, and he walks with confidence. In short, he behaves like a movie star, and it seems jarringly incongruous in the rough and gritty world of the film.

Killing Them Softly is a tough film to assess. I liked almost every scene in the movie and love its tone and what it’s trying to do overall, and yet I also can’t really say that all these strong elements ever really congeal into a fully formed film. I admire that it swung for the bleachers and tried to paint an incredibly cynical portrait of America rather than function as a mere caper, but I can’t say that all of its political aspirations really came together either. Yet for all the film’s over reaching and all its flaws, it still works. I really enjoyed watching Killing Them Softly and would certainly rather watch it than some random generic Hollywood crime film, but I don’t think I can really call it a true success. In a way it may even be for the best that the film isn’t really finding its audience right away. This really just isn’t the kind of film that’s meant to take over the world on its opening weekend. Rather, it feels like the kind of film that will slowly build as its audience discovers it at the bottom of bargain bins and in late night premium cable airings.
*** out of Four
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Old 12-17-2012, 05:42 AM   #20
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Thought the movie started off well but got bored halfway through the film not to mention the abrupt ending. Mind you I might give it another shot as I also had the opportunity to see a Q&A screening of Anna Karenina with Keira Knightley and the Director but ultimately missed out, so I think that was solely on my mind at the time.

Rating: 5/10.
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Old 12-21-2012, 07:00 PM   #21
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What a snooze fest of a movie, I usually love these types but dang I started losing interest almost halfway through
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Old 12-30-2012, 01:03 PM   #22
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this movie is forgettable. way too heavy handed with its 'message' and it was just... there. nothing really happened, there was very little drama in the movie, couldn't really get connected to the characters or anything. couple cool car scenes, but you see those in the trailer. i wasn't even bored like other reviewers, just wasn't that interested either. i would say skip it, not really worth watching at all, but it is a pretty short movie so you won't be wasting too much time i guess.

5/10
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