Dir: Andrew Dominick, 2012
Two petty crooks are hired to knock over a card game run by the gangster Markie Trattman who, having robbed his own game through a third party before, is the perfect scapegoat. The mob, sensing something’s off, bring in hitman Jackie Cogan to suss out the situation before putting it right.
Andrew Dominick, in his last screen outing, brought us one of the most exquisite films of the 21st century with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. No surprise then that his next film, boasting a reunion with previous leading man Brad Pitt, drew high expectations from cinemagoers. This anticipation makes it even more of a pity that Dominick’s subsequent script (adapted from George V. Higgins’ novel Cogan’s Trade) delivered a clunky, irksome film which bears closer resemblance to a term paper than a cinematic masterpiece.
Dominick strives to pair the 2008 American presidential election with satirical unsophistication of the criminal underworld, offering a top and bottom contrast of the crime hierarchy. The satire fails to be witty and the contrast is neither subtle nor astute; this gangster picture is more riddled with campaign posters and snippets of broadcasts than it is bullets. The violence is tormenting but the tone of the movie is one of slight jest, spending too much time on the idiotic pair of Scoot McNairy/Ben Mendelsohn and not enough showcasing Brad Pitt, whose presence in the film lasts less than an hour.
The array of talent not on display in Killing Them Softly is bordering on sinful, with a supporting cast that includes James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins and Ray Liotta. Every actor in this film is underutilised due to the scarce material in which they have to work with. What little momentum that Dominick eventually gets running is abruptly forced to a standstill while Pitt and Gandolfini debate over the relevance of the latter’s character, and so do we.
Killing Them Softly is about as subtle as a shotgun, though not the overly sawn-off shotgun in the film. The unwavering tirade of financial crisis allusions warrants a more blatant antonym for subtext. Not even the soundtrack could have been more noticeable, with tracks like The Man Comes Around and Money (That’s What I Want) screaming the film’s commentary on capitalism to all who’ll listen. At a bare ninety-seven minutes, Killing Them Softly takes too long to get anywhere substantial, drowning in its own cynicism in the meantime.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆