Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Killing Them Softly

I recently had the opportunity to see Killing Them Softly, the new film by Andrew Dominik, who last directed 2007’s superb film The Assassination of Jesse Jamesby the Coward Robert Ford, which also starred Brad Pitt. I’ve always enjoyed dark crime films, and this film peeked my curiosity the first time I saw the trailer (which you can view at the bottom of this review).

In case you’ve never heard of Killing Them Softly, which is based on George V Higgins’ 1974 crime novel Cogan’s Trade, here’s how IMDb describes the movie: “Jackie Cogan is an enforcer hired to restore order after three dumb guys rob a Mob protected card game, causing the local criminal economy to collapse.”

The crime/drama film was reminiscent of last year’s Drive, starring Ryan Gosling, in that it’s a dark, realistic film noir. The story is simple and familiar, but Dominik puts his own spin on things. Instead of taking the usual shoot-em-up route, Dominik pulls back and lets realism, as well as the characters, drive the film by taking viewers into the underworld (as opposed to bringing the villains into the real world). It’s there they get a pessimistic and dark-comedy look at the different tiers of felonious players.

Portraying these players was an impressive cast of actors (there were no actresses other than a bit prostitute part). They included Pitt as the practical and down-to-earth Jackie, who took a systematic and badass approach to cleaning up the mess left behind from the robbery. Pitt’s character is a crude businessman, and this, as well as the other’s ineptitude, is brought to life by the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis. Basically the little mob niche was symbolic of the country as a whole, and Jackie wasn’t going to be caught in the crosshairs.

Carsen Nachreiner was the buddy for this film.

Scoot McNairy, who played one of the aforementioned “three dumb guys” who robbed the poker game, also did a great job as Frankie the junkie. Despite being the catalyst of the situation, he was also the protagonist of the film. You find yourself pulling for his survival despite the drug addiction and rashness, but at the same time you know he deserves what’s coming.

The film was bolstered by fine performances from Richard JenkinsJames Gandolfini and Ray Liotta. The seemingly straight-laced Jenkins plays “Driver”, the middleman between the mob and Jackie. He’s an awful lot like Jackie except that he’s held back by conventions. Likewise, Gandolfini plays fellow hit man Mickey, though he’s not calm, cool and collected like Jackie. Instead, he’s past his prime, an alcoholic and barely holding on by a strong. It’s a sad state in reality, but in this film Gandolfini owns it and captivates every second he’s on the screen. Finally there was Liotta, who played Markie Trattman, the low-level mob man who ran the poker game. I’m used to seeing Liotta play badass characters, but in this film his character was rather meek and it was fun watching him play a pussy.

Killing Them Softly was certainly different. When I left the theater, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Part of me hated it, but another part of me loved it. After processing things for a while, I came to the conclusion that it was actually a rather decent film, not only because so few movies leave me feeling so conflicted (which I think is a testament to their influence), but also because it was unique. It’s ironic that such a dark and depressing movie can be so refreshing.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 70%

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