In 2011, the film Drive disappointed lots of moviegoers, mostly average people over professional critics, and the main instigator for that emotion was the trailer; the marketing in general. All the while, many professional critics such as Richard Roeper (Reelz Channel) and Peter Travers (Rolling Stone), and even I, placed the film in the number one spot for the best film of the year. While Drive is a superior film to Killing Them Softly, many viewers are already regarding it as the Drive of 2012. Not because of the quality of the film, but because of the poor marketing and the untrue expectations placed into the minds of viewers. While I certainly agree that Killing Them Softly doesn’t quite meet the greatness of Drive, I must say that while watching it, the Nicolas Winding Refn cinematic experience consistently popped up in my mind. Unlike the case with Drive, I had unfortunately seen the trailer for Killing Them Softly months prior to my seeing it. I watched Drive with no knowledge of what I was in for, and I got a knockout of a film that never ceased to amaze. I then watched the trailer, only to be very disappointed with the poor and untruthful marketing that was being portrayed for the American public to consume. When I first saw the trailer for Softly, I saw that Brad Pitt was in a mobster movie, and that was all I needed to assume it would be a good action flick. I got nothing I expected. What I got was a 97 minute long film that was virtually entirely dialogue driven. Talk about being knocked off your feet. Within the first sixty seconds of this film, every thought I had about it being a high octane action thriller was diminished, but far from crushed. That being said, I must state the facts: I thoroughly enjoyed Killing Them Softly.
The plot of Killing Them Softly revolves around two young inexperienced guys (Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendolsohn) who decide to hold up a group of men at a card game; a card game that just happens to be protected by the mob. This robbery then causes the criminal economy to collapse, unleashing disastrous results as the men are then hunted by Jackie (Brad Pitt), an assassin hired to track them down by the runner of the mob, played by Ray Liotta. Sounds like it could be exhilarating, right? Lots of guns, car chases, and dead bodies? Sure, you get a little of that, but it is mostly talking. And more talking. And then, you guessed it: more talking. My friend turned to me when the film ended and said, “I found myself incredibly bored during that movie.” I can understand that completely. My feelings about the film are different, though. I personally found the film, which mostly relies on its script, to be explosive, both physically and verbally.
First I will address the performances. Brad Pitt (Fight Club, Moneyball), while having so much fun being Brad Pitt, is fantastic in Killing Them Softly. As Peter Travers of Rolling Stone said, his performance is “magnetic.” He sucks you into his character within the first ten seconds of his screen time, which is brilliantly introduced by an excerpt from Johnny Cash. Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods) is also fantastic in the movie, as he always is, doing great with what screen time he is given. Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, awesome, right?) is in this film and he unsurprisingly knocks it out of the park with his performance as the mob boss. James Gandolfini is in this film and, as did Liotta, unsurprisingly knocks it out of the park with his performance. However, I feel like he had no real purpose in the movie overall. He was in a couple scenes, and he was amusing and immensely entertaining, but his character felt out of place for the overall film. All of those performances aside, I want to address the stars of the movie: the two wanna-be-thugs. Scoot McNairy (Argo) is phenomenal as the main character in the film. I understand Brad Pitt’s character is on the poster and he is the more popular of the bunch, but in the end, it is this man who is the main character; his buddy as well. Which brings us to his buddy, the whacked out Ben Mendelsohn (The Dark Knight Rises), who completely transforms himself to lower dirt from his role of being in charge in Rises (Do you feel in charge? Probably not now). These guys are incredible in the movie and I can see them, especially McNairy, getting a lot more roles in the future, what with Argo and now Softly.
This movie is directed beautifully by Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, also starring Brad Pitt) and features some impressive shots and camera angles. A scene in which a man is being beaten brutally in the middle of the street during the rain feels so peculiar and special when watching, as Dominik’s camera movement makes everything feel tangible. Alongside the direction, the script, written by Dominik and based on the 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, is, for the most part, crisp. Sure it includes a lot of dialogue, and sometimes the conversations between characters seemed to go on too long, but overall, the interchange between characters is very flamboyant and realistically portrayed for the setting of the film’s events.
Much like in Drive, Killing Them Softly drops the long stretch of dialogue and shocks audiences with a gratuitous amount of gore. While I feel it worked in the 2011 film, I feel it was a little out of place and too showy in this film. Also, the film’s opening is a bit annoying, with clips from Barrack Obama that are edited to aggravating effects. Also, the first half of the film is very pushy in its political message, which is very heavy by the way, and it feels a little preachy. The film takes place back in 2008 and it is during the economic crisis and clips of Obama and George Bush are constantly being played. The film plays the speeches throughout, without giving an explanation as to why they are even there; at least, not until the end. The ending of the film is one of the best endings to a film all year and it successfully addresses the issue of the political campaigns being shown. Also, the very last line in the film is so satisfying and it left me with a smile on my face.
Overall, I would say that Killing Them Softly is a good mobster film. It is certainly different from more superior mobster movies such as Goodfellas and The Departed, but it is still highly entertaining and the message that is depicted is welcoming and true, even if it does feel a bit pushed onto you. I would recommend seeing Killing Them Softly at matinee price, or just wait to rent it on blu-ray, but I must say that you really shouldn’t skip out on this one.
Run Time: 97 mins
Rated: R for violence, sexual references, pervasive language, and some drug use
Starring: Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta, and James Gandolfini
Written by: Andrew Dominik
Directed by: Andrew Dominik