Killing Them Softly

Art & Culture


Anticipation is a double edged sword. It provides a thrill in advance, but if the film fails to live up to your hopes, then there's more of a letdown than usual. This is the case with the new film from Brad Pit and Andrew Dominik who made The Assassination of Jesse James.
Although this film shares with that film an interest in men and violence, there the similarity ends. Jesse James was a look at the myth of an outlaw, betrayal and moral ambiguity. It was (and is) a serious film. Killing Them Softly seems more like a series of scenes in which men talk to each other, followed by bursts of violence. There are occasional parts that work well, but as a whole, the film feels undercooked and half baked.
We start with two punks knocking over a card game run by gangster Ray Liotta. Due to a complex backstory, he is deemed to be the guilty party behind this holdup. A killer is called in to deal with the problem. This is Brad Pitt. He sits in a car with Richard Jenkins (who he refers to on one occasion as Councillor), discussing the terms on which retribution shall be exacted. He calls in old colleague Mickey (James Gandolfini) as an assistant, but Mickey is so heavily into booze and hookers that he's of no use. So Brad has to do all the dirty work himself.
The problem I have with this film is that I don't know what it's meant to be. Is it a thriller? Is it a philosophical treatise on modern America? Does the fact that Obama/McCain campaign is taking place very visibly on TV screens everywhere have any significance? Are we even supposed to care what happens to anyone? After the fairly brief running time of 90 minutes, I was none the wiser.
Some critics seem to adore it, and refer to it as a commentary on modern American life. Sorry, I must have missed that. The Godfather – yes I can see how that reflects on the previous half century of greed and violence – but KTS has none of that depth or subtlety. Sure, Brad Pitt is excellent, and some of his exchanges, especially the one with one of the punks in a bar, are excellent. But the scenes with Gandolfini seem like a complete waste of space, adding nothing to the overall film, and the role of Jenkins as consultant and paymaster is murky and unhelpful.
I was led to believe that this might be an exceptional film, which makes it all the more disappointing to discover that it's barely average.

Phil Raby

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