KILLING THEM SOFTLY
DIRECTED BY Andrew Dominick
STARS Brad Pitt, Scott McNairy
Head over to the comments section on the Fox News website and you'll find political discussions as clumsy and ham-fisted as the strain of real-life topicality that runs throughout Killing Them Softly.
Writer-director Andrew Dominick, whose epic Western The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford made my 10 Best list for 2007, stumbles badly with this yarn (based on George V. Higgins' novel Cogan's Trade) in which a professional killer (Brad Pitt) is tasked with locating and eliminating the low-level crooks who were dumb enough to rob a Mob-enforced card game. Pitt is merely in "cool movie star" mode here, with the best performance coming from Scoot McNairy (star of the unseen gem In Search of a Midnight Kiss and currently appearing in Argo) as one of the hapless thieves.
For the most part, this is a generic crime flick that comes with the usual trimmings of Tarantino-inspired exchanges (except dull instead of exhilarating), loving attention to all the beatings and shootings (a bullet ripping through a cheek, a kicked rib cage cracking, etc.) and the entire female population represented by a solitary hooker (billed as, yes, "Hooker" rather than a name in the end credits) who's only on hand to be insulted by James Gandolfini's boozy hitman (when she asks for a tip, he replies, "Here's a tip: Learn how to put the condom on with your mouth"). But add the ill-advised attempt to make a meaningful statement and what's left is particularly unbearable. Set in 2008, with both the presidential election and the financial collapse the hot news items of the day, the film constantly places its characters in settings where TVs or billboards are constantly featuring Obama, Bush or McCain. It's the movie's way of saying that the crime underworld is no different than the real world, what with its bureaucratic blunders, corporate structuring, capitalist tendencies and dog-eat-dog mentality. At one point, Pitt's character even says, "America isn't a country; it's a business." Great, but mob movies have been making similar parallels at least since The Godfather 40 years ago.
Killing Them Softly positions itself as a heady piece of entertainment, but it's ultimately no more intelligent than The Pet Goat.