From Wall Street to the mean streets, it’s just business
By Tim Pompey 12/06/2012
Killing Them Softly
Directed by Andrew Dominik
Starring: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins
Rated R for violence, sexual references, pervasive language and some drug use
1 hr. 37 min.
Who knew that the financial meltdown in 2008 would also affect the average criminal Joe who’s just going about his business keeping dumbass crooks in line? But business is business throughout America. So when Wall Street crashed, even the mob had to take its lumps. Or so this story goes.
No surprise, then, that Killing Them Softly feels very businesslike and includes extended complaints from criminal business partners about how the mob’s corporate bureaucracy makes it hard to get things done — too many high-level managers deciding who lives and who dies. And since no one at the top likes to get his hands dirty, when things go wrong they hire Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to clean up the mess.
Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola), a.k.a. Squirrel, hires Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) to pull off a robbery of a mob-sponsored card game. They all hope to make a sweet haul and let card manager Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), who’s done this kind of thing before, take the fall.
Everything goes as planned, but when Jackie is hired to find out what went wrong, he wants to know who the real hit men were. When Russell runs his mouth off to a fellow mob associate, word finally comes down that he and Frankie did the job. Now the guys upstairs want payback.
The trouble is, it’s hard for Jackie to find the right person for the job. He hires hit man Mickey (James Gandolfini) to do part of the work. Unfortunately, Mickey is on a bender because his wife has decided to divorce him. He’s pounding down shots and spending work hours playing with hookers. Jackie decides, if he wants a job done right, do it himself.
Director Andrew Dominik wants to connect both the process and the end result of business partnerships run amok. Running video and audio of the financial collapse starring George Bush, Henry Paulson and even Barack Obama, he links politicians, corporate business and mob business as part of the same inept and greedy economic fabric.
Given the normal macho reputation of mob movies, Killing Them Softly reveals a remarkable amount of humanity. Call this The Sopranos with its pants down. He contrasts this with long slow-mo shots of drug use and violence as if to give us time to digest what it means to die slowly — from a fist, a needle, a gunshot, many gunshots.
It’s an innovative approach except for one thing; the story is not that interesting. There are very few plot twists. There are long conversations that subsist of small talk and diner chat. Authentic perhaps, but not compelling. It seems that business is business, even in the movies, and in this case, business is boring.
The one exception to this is Pitt, whose tight-mouthed presence seems to draw us into the plot. He’s smart and dangerous, especially when he pats someone on the back and acts like a big brother. But even he has a soft spot when it comes to killing. He hates to kill close up. From a distance is better. Thus the phrase “killing them softly.”
Killing Them Softly has its moments, but not enough to recommend it. It runs hot and cold, sluggish and exceptionally bloody. It feels like an experiment in need of an editor. The ending suggests that some high-level studio execs may have exercised their own corporate thuggery. Perhaps there’s a better film lying on the cutting room floor.
Ironic, considering the theme of this movie, but that’s the way business and movies run in America. Jackie sums it up when he says, “America’s not a country, and it’s just a business.” As this film aptly demonstrates, in America, Wall Street and mob heists and movies are all about the Benjamins.