Review: KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 16 December 2012



Following from his critically-acclaimed meditative western THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007), New Zealand-born director Andrew Dominik explores hard-boiled crime genre in KILLING THEM SOFTLY. Despite early positive reviews and a coveted Palme d'Or nomination at the recent Cannes Film Festival, the movie is well-acted but shockingly mundane effort that doesn't really deserved such high acclaim at the first place.

Based on a 1974 crime novel Cogan's Trade by George V. Higgins, this modern update centers on two small-time crooks Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) are being tapped by their boss Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) to rob a mob-protected card game supervised by a mob hustler named Markie (Ray Liotta). At the night of the heist, Frankie and Russell managed to pull it off without trouble. But they didn't realize their consequences eventually put their lives into jeopardy after a mob representative called Driver (Richard Jenkins) hired a hitman named Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to set things right.

The title of KILLING THEM SOFTLY actually refers to Jackie's preferred method of killing where he will choose to stand back from the crime rather than personally getting involved with the victims he's going to murder. Dominik's adapted screenplay is excessively talky, but that won't be matter if the dialogue are catchy or captivating enough to hold your interest. Alas, Dominik is no David Mamet or Quentin Tarantino, for that matter. Sure, the dialogue does contain all the typical tough-guy talks and colorful profanity but the certain vibe or hook, for that matter, is hardly there. Instead, this supposedly breezy 97-minute movie feels like a tired slog. On the other hand, Dominik also tries to make his movie more than just your typical crime genre. Over the course of the running time, he tries hard to make a statement about the 2008's financial crisis suffered in the US as well as the political commentary between Obama and McCain presidential campaign. It's an admirable effort, but the context feels strangely disconnected and they are more of a filler than a meaningful interpretation.

As a crime genre, Dominik only delivers them in certain portions. Whenever the action arrives, Dominik knows how to hook his viewers with his ultra-stylized, slow-motion orgy of violence (the particular scene where Jackie shoots his victim from the backseat of a car is a compelling visual flair to check out for). Earlier in the movie, Dominik manages to pull off a tautly-directed scene involving a suspenseful mob heist. But these entertaining scenes are sadly too little to justify the entire whole.

At least the fine cast deserve a few praises here. While those who are looking forward to see Pitt's tough-guy role will be (mostly) disappointed by the sheer amount of time watching him talk a lot than doing his killing job, his cold and calculating character remains compelling. With slicked-back hair and a goatee, Pitt makes Jackie Cogan an engaging presence. As two clumsy small-time crooks messing up with the wrong people, McNairy and Mendelsohn are believable in their lowlife roles. The rest of the supporting actors, including Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini and even a small role by Richard Jenkins, are equally good as well.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY could have been a great crime picture, if not for Dominik's heavily-restrained direction that doesn't really goes nowhere. What a huge, yet missed opportunity.

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