“America’s not a country. It’s just a business.”
The above is one of many references “Killing Them Softly” makes to the US financial crisis of 2008. Times may be tough for us everyday folk, but apparently organized crime is taking just as big of a hit.
After two low-life criminals knock over a local gambling joint, the bosses call in an enforcer (Brad Pitt) to clean house. Not exactly the most complex plot, but this isn’t a story-driven film.
What does propel the film is the amazing ensemble of actors and their respective characters. Aside from Pitt’s Jackie Cogan, Richard Jenkins as his handler and James Gandolfini as a company hitman make for some interesting characters. Everyone has their moments to shine, Pitt moreso in the second half of the film. Each individual plays their part in this allegorical little tale and its fun to watch them interact.
“Killing Them Softly” is not a film glorifying the life of a criminal. No one should be mistaking it for “Goodfellas” just because Ray Liotta has some screen time. Though one of the killings is heavily stylized, the majority of the film is gritty minimalism and filthy (especially if Ben Mendelsohn is onscreen). This is the criminal underworld when they’ve been bled of their cash and become all bark, little bite.
The film opens around the time of Barack Obama’s election as president and features many political themes of the 2008 bailout season. In fact, the audience hears several speeches made by both Obama and then-President Bush about the economic crisis. It’s a little exhausting, to be honest.
Writer/director Andrew Dominik, whose last film was 2007’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” has a lot going for him with his latest effort. He is again able to get some great performances from his actors and some of the comparisons he makes between mob life and America’s political structure do have resonance. There are two main flaws in “Killing Them Softly” that keep the film from being one of the year’s best.
First, the story is too simple to get swept into. Great, albeit unsympathetic, characters and their development make up for a lot of this, but it’s a really simple plot stretched over an entire film. Half of the running time is dedicated to a drunk Gandolfini rambling about the women he’s slept with. After a while you just wish Pitt’s character would slap the guy so we can all get on with the film. But I digress…
Secondly, the film’s comparison between Wall Street’s financial crisis and these gangsters comes off too heavy-handed. Sure, there are similarities, but after the audience listens to a third speech by Obama, it becomes too much. If there is a single word that could be used to describe the film’s message, “subtle” would not be one of them.
I wish I could have enjoyed this film more than I did because the performances are great and the film itself isn’t bad, only disappointing at times.