By Will Ashton | firstname.lastname@example.org
Killing Them Softly | Directed by Andrew Dominik | Rated R
There are some movies where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Then there are films like Killing Them Softly, where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
Centered on the mob during the height of the 2008 presidential election, Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is an enforcer who is hired to fix any problems that happen around his job’s circle. When three guys pull a bank robbery in a mob’s private poker game, and the mob gets pulled apart little by little, Cogan is there to try to bring order to the chaos that is surrounded by him.
While this seems like a short summary, it’s because there is not too much to its story. That’s not to say, however, that it’s a bad story, or a bad film.
Many people have compared this movie to last year’s Drive, and often for good reason — both even have characters named The Driver. Although neither film has a lot of story, they both create enough interest and driving force in their stories thanks to strong style and force from the direction.
This time, the director is Andrew Dominik, not Nicholas Wending Refn, and he has a solid career ahead of him. While I haven’t seen his first film, Chopper, his second film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, also starring Pitt, remains one the best Westerns of the past few years.
Here, Dominik decides to tackle the gangster and crime noir genres. It has strides of the aforementioned Drive, mixed in with the filmmaking styles of Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese. While he is not as successful as he was in his last effort, Dominik still makes a compelling and often unapologetically brutal film that continues to demonstrate his promise and talent.
While the story is pretty light, and often quite scattershot, what really makes the film are the individual moments centered on its characters. Given such rich dialogue from Dominik’s script, based on the book Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, each one is given their moment to shine, both as characters and as performances from each individual actor. It’s in these moments that the movie really hits greatness.
In particular, it’s the performances by Pitt (who also produces) and James Gandolfini that really stand out in this film. Especially Gandolfini, who I feel completely, and surprisingly, steals the show in this movie and brings in some of his best work since his days of being Tony Soprano. But everyone’s performance in this movie is quite solid, and they bring a lot of punch to the film’s very compelling and rich dialogue.
It’s sad, however, that the movie is unable to connect these moments into a better movie. Sandwiched together, these scenes often don’t completely gel into a great movie, but rather just into a good movie. The editing throughout Killing Them Softly ranges from good to completely terrible, and often when it’s bad, it’s very noticeably bad. That said, the sound editing is some of the best I’ve seen all year.
The biggest problem, however, is that all the stories from each individual character being told don’t really connect together in a complete and satisfying way. All the characters’ dialogue-driven scenes often don’t connect to the film’s story, or they feel like they’re being taken from another film altogether. If the writing and story could have been tighter and more focused, this could have been something quite great. Which is odd, considering there’s not much story to begin with.
Additionally, the film feels the need to push its economic-based political beliefs into the audience’s head with all the subtlety of a baseball bat. We are constantly shown or given in the background speeches from Barack Obama and George W. Bush about the economy and our country, and it seems like this movie is trying to lead up to something bigger in its message. But ultimately, the movie seems to forget about this idealism until the very end, and while it does lead to a great little monologue by Pitt, it doesn’t connect together to the film’s story. In the end, the movie failed to tell its message properly.
But beyond this, the direction, writing, and performances in this movie are worth the price of admission alone, especially when all three are in top notch and working together. Dominik is a director to look out for, and I feel like, while this may not be a great film, we are going to be seeing some great work from him very soon.