Killing Them Softly (2012)

killing them softly movie

New Zealand born Aussie Andrew Dominik seems remarkably in tune with an America now, and then.

The then, 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James (For short, ten word titles take an age to write) won critical acclaim but little audience take up at the time in its study of infamy and America’s first celebrity. An apparent growing audience love of the film and the now wider seen Killing Them Softly may serve to showcase the exceptional talents of a premier director.

To see Dominik at his best when given time and space, watch his first collaboration with Brad Pitt; here playing hitman Jackie Cogan, a vital part of the underworld economic system of low level crime poker games. When Ray Liotta’s game gets hit by Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendolsohn the flow of cash stops, games shut down and criminals just like everyman on the street, struggle in harsh times.

Dominik’s America now, a commentary on the effects of the economic downturn seem too contrived though here against the backdrop of the unfolding Presidential race of 2008; every TV and car radio provides coverage and his grander study seems somewhat appended when paralleling the collapse of the local crime economy with the oncoming economic storm.

Pitt once more gives a nifty performance, a lethal killer enforcing the order of the criminal system; totally pragmatic and unapologetic for his opportunistic function within this version of the corporate machine and comical when exasperated with the folly of a haphazard crew of crooks when in meets with Richards Jenkins’ mob accountant.

killing them softly movie 2

McNairy’s main lowlife Frankie is authentic but once more the ever brilliant Mendolsohn continues with his exceptional run of form (The Place Beyond the Pines, The Dark Knight Rises, Animal Kingdom); surely one the premier character actors right now, here allowed to remain in his native Aussie tongue as the slack-jawed druggy Russell.

Liotta’s pitiful showing as game owner Markie strikes somewhat as a departure since his recently intimidating show in The Place Beyond the Pines; here a pathetic middle man in the crime hierarchy.

The much seen James Gandolfini appears too as Pitt’s would be partner for the clean up task in hand, struggling with the demands of contract killing. He is  exceptional once more.

Dominik once more gets to show outstanding directorial flair, capturing bleak urban vistas that at times feel as barren as Jesse James’ frontier prairies and when killing them leisurely in a dynamic slow motion execution, undoubted technical skill. But here it feels somewhat grandiose and even more so in a drug fuelled first-person exchange between McNairy and Mendolhson’s airheads that labours to makes its point.

killing them softly movie 3

Jesse James’ mammoth cinematic runtime was still far less than Dominik’s intended contemplative distance for his masterpiece and here with a relatively short runtime the director seems to struggle to balance his methodical style while covering all bases; many lengthy scenes feel unwieldy when he is seemingly not afforded the luxury of time.

Dominik’s grander political point could have been made with more subtly too rather than the telegraphed statements and satirising background TV screens, but within a prescriptive framework his scrutinising lens presents a realistic and gritty underbelly of criminality.

Whether it’s all effective in feeling relevant to the wider events of 2008 is debatable, but as a curious polar cousin to Margin Call’s top down view on the meltdown it’s a compelling and brutal bottom dwelling take on how crime somehow always pays; Pitt’s final damning assessment of America on election night is an unswerving quip that’s more economical than Dominik’s ruthless and stylish lamentation which while impressive, largely struggles to make its political musings relevant.

new 3 star okay

38 responses to “Killing Them Softly (2012)

  1. Excellent review Kev. I know a lot of people found problems with this one but I really enjoyed it. The sociopolitical message was a bit heavy but I found it worked for the most part. Showing the underbelly of corruption while alluding the ruling corruption of politicians.

    • Thanks Mark. I thought it was okay too but I expected much more from Dominik TBH. I’m actually worried he can’t quite do it without an epic run-time. The message was only delivered confidently enough at the end when Pitt said pay me…I liked it though 😉

    • A mixed bag. I think if this had been half hour longer dominik would have done a better was saying a lot without enough time to say it all.

  2. My heartfelt patriotism aside, I really felt that this movie’s concept had a lot of potential, and given Dominik’s success with ‘Jesse James,’ I expected a lot more than this heavy-handed “condemnation” of American capitalism. I have no problem with film-makers forgoing subtlety in favor of a kick to the teeth, but I feel the way that Dominik handled his sociopolitical message was clumsy at best. Additionally, I found the lack of any truly likable character in this film made the flick rather hard to get attached to. In short, I feel this movie was a wasted opportunity form a writer-director who has some obvious talent. I would definitely agree with your “OK” rating.

    • I agree. Did not deliver on its potential; either that of the subject or the skill of the director, heavy handed and obvious yes indeed and with more space and time a more subtle and epic commentary could and should have been made. Major opportunity for another dominik masterpiece missed.

    • I agree 100%, the heavy handed message aspect really bullied us out of a decent story. I wanted to see more Richard Jenkins and his its just business approach. Margin Call is a far better little seen movie. Find it on BD.

      • Margin call is a far better movie and is reviewed on this site. Softly’s bottom up approach would have been far more relevant and in turn a better movie if it feathered in its message. A decent movie that disappointed on the promise of Jesse James

  3. I have to be honest, I really liked this film a lot. Even though Gandolfini had a very limited role (albeit fairly useless role to the plot) i really enjoyed that scene a lot and made the film for me.

    • I like Gandalf too (keep thinking that’s what he is called) but whenever i see him now I think typecast, each role he plays seems to blend into the other, very prolific though. I wondered why they spent a lot of time on his character to be honest as I thought too that it was useless to the plot. I liked him best in True Romance, he was truly exceptionally horrible in that.

  4. Hm. Your review is much more glowing than the score you give (that happens to me sometimes, too 🙄 ) I’m ok with a 3 out of 5, but I wasn’t nearly as impressed with some of the effusive praise you lay on Dominik’s work here. If anything I thought he got in his own way. The stylings were heavy handed and obtrusive, and he pratically shoved his “econominc collapse parallels” down our throats! 😦

    It appears you and I have slightly different perspectives on this flick, Kev.

    • Hm indeed. I think I balanced any praise with criticism, but I appreciate any feedback that highlights any potential critique that’s out of sync with the score, I agree it happens easily. Always worth thinking about though I’m happy with my review. 3/5 is an “okay” score so forgive me if you feel I’m cheerleading or too glowy. I was disappointed overall in relative terms to Jesse James, but stylistically there’s much to admire even when it’s “obtrusive” as you said and “grandiose” as I say. I think your “heavy handed” is pretty much the same as I have “unwieldy”, “your practically shoved” is how I have “contrived” (forced) to describe the economic parallels angle thingy…so…maybe, just maybe we’re not that differing after all.

  5. Great review, man! I thought this one was better than what most people thought. The performances and the dialogue, I thought, were superb. The main flaw really, which you point out, is that its lack of subtly when it comes to communicating its political message. Still though, I really enjoyed it actually,

    • Thanks Garrett, really appreciate the praise 😉 I was surprised it was not longer really, it seemed to have to bludgeon its message in there, I dont know if that had something to do with it as I have come to expect Dominik to be more subtle than that. I thought it was okay but should have been way better.

  6. I liked this a lot, maybe because it was the first Dominik movie I saw… The only thing I really hated about it was Gandolfini’s character. He performed well, though. Good point about how this struggles to make the political points relevant. I wonder if it would have been a bigger box office hit if it were released in 2009, or 2010, even…

    • Thanks Daniel, I recommend watching Jesse James then my friend if you haven’t already. Yep didn’t see much point to his character. It major point was made well… pointless by its obviousness I thought. More subtly required which Dominik has shown better in Jesse James in particular, there though he had a lifetime to be patient !

  7. Everybody here seems to enjoying the hell out of this material, and makes this movie more than just a bunch of really good actors doing shop. It makes it seem like real life. Good review.

  8. Wonderful review! This one is on my watch list (back to exams needing to get by). The reviews have been mixed, but I think Brad Pitt is a good actor, so I would like to see what all the fuss is about!

    • Thanks 🙂 I think Pitt is a massively underrated actor one of the best of his generation. His variety of work is quite varied and he holds the screen as good as anyone. When Bradley speaks people look and listen!

      • So do I! I hate the way people say he got by because he is pretty. I think he has some massive talent that people underplay. You are so on about his variety and charisma.

    • Oh yeah like a smack in the face really, should have been more subtle really made everything it was trying to say a bit void really still check it out though Pitt is still cool 😉

  9. Great review, you’re spot on about how the whole film bashes you over the head with its recession commentary, but it’s very enjoyable despite that

    • Thanks Mikey. it was a bit full on really, was expecting more subtlety from Dominik but I debate whether he had the runtime to do it in.

  10. Great review Kevin! I’ve never seen anything by Andrew Dominik yet, but I’m more interested in ‘Jesse James.’ Interesting how a New Zealandar has a keen eye in American culture.

      • I don’t like Pitt but I think Casey Affleck is a terrific actor so I’ll watch it for him and the director 😉

      • I love Pitt but not going try change your opinion Ruth. Pitt is awesome here but Affleck is really something else, you will know what I mean when you watch it. Would be very interested in your opinion on the film always looking for Jesse James converts ;). Feel free to view my review here. Thanks Ruth 🙂

  11. Pingback: Killing Them Softly (2012) | Tim Neath - Visual Artist·

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