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Killing Them Softly - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Killing Them Softly
Directing: C-
Acting: B+
Writing: C-
Cinematography: B-
Editing: D

By the end of Killing Them Softly, I was waiting for Brad Pitt's grungy assassin to put me out of my misery.

Average movie-goers like to complain about how critics are out of touch. Sometimes, they really are. But rarely is the chasm between critic and audience so wide as in this movie, which audiences hate: they gave it a Cinemascore of F. That's harsh; almost freakishly so -- I did not enjoy this movie, but I will only give a movie an F if it has zero redeeming value. And Killing Them Softly has a couple of redeeming values: perfectly good performances, and occasionally nice cinematography.

Not that they make up for much. As for the actors, there's a lot of great ones here: Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Richard Kenkins, Ray Liotta. The whole lot of them, wasted. And the cinematography? There's a fantastic slow-motion shot of Ray Liotta getting shot in the head through his driver's side car window. It's bizarrely as pretty as it is grotesque, but the scene is belabored. And: why? That I couldn't figure out. Good cinematography kind of means a lot less if it's either misguided or mystifying.

That leads me right to the very opening credits. I'd say that Killing Them Softly opens promising enough, except for those opening titles. Right off the bat, this movie is annoying as shit. Our primary character, an idiot criminal named Frankie (Scoot McNairy), is walking down the street, through shreds of newspaper floating through the air, to the soundtrack of one of Barack Obama's 2008 speeches. Except this is cut off at seemingly random intervals, not just mid-sentence but mid-word, for brief white titles on black background with ominous music that has lots of reverb. It got my attention, but only to make me want it to stop.

The 2008 financial collapse is the overwrought backdrop of this movie. It goes on and on, the radio and TV broadcasts, in cars and in ghetto diners. In a way, this story is a criminal underworld reflection of that collapse. Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) held up one of his own card games, we learn. It caused financial disruption, but things eventually turned around, and Markie, apparently also an idiot, copped to being the guy behind the hold-up. He's given a pass because people like him (that seems weird) -- for now.

And now is the issue at hand with Frankie and his skanky Australian pal (Ben Mendelsohn), who are hired to hold up yet another card game. The guy hiring them convinces them that Makie will take the fall for it, get knocked off, and they'll get off scott free. We all know this isn't how it's going to play out.

How it all does play out could have been a lot more entertaining, or hell, more interesting. Director and co-writer Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) takes scene after scene and milks them until they're boring as shit. How long do we have to sit and listen to James Gandolfini's alcoholic hit man Mickey talk about how much he loves pussy but more specifically the pussy he's got back home? An age and a half, by the feel of it.

Brad Pitt is Jackie, the man hired to clean up all this mess. He brings old friend Mickey into the picture because he knows one of the guys he has to kill and he doesn't want to have to do it himself. Jackie seems oddly sensitive for a man in his line of work. "I like killing them softly," he says. It's too bad Andrew Dominik didn't take that to heart, because this movie is agony.

The themes here are far from subtle. They're practically rubbed in our faces. "In America, you're on your own," Jackie says at one point -- while Obama's 2009 inauguration speech is playing on a TV in the dive bar he's in. Early on in the film, we hear lots of audio clips of George W. Bush going on about the necessity of government bailouts. Corporate greed is so much a part of the background here that Richard Jenkins plays a hired hand who represents mob bosses we never see, but are described specifically as having "a corporate mentality."

Jackie is unreasonably patient. Why does he let people he's talking to go on so long that we want to scream at the screen for them to shut the fuck up? Jackie's the one with the gun. Hurry up and shoot these people, or at least shoot me so I don't have to listen to them anymore. Even great acting is meaningless when they are perfectly portraying people with whom you have zero interest in spending time. And here we're subjected to 97 minutes of them. It's 97 minute too many.

Brad Pitt puts the wrong people -- as opposed to the audience -- out of their misery in KILLING THEM SOFTLY.

Overall: C-
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