Friday, December 7, 2012

"Killing Them Softly" review

"Killing Them Softly"

Written & Directed by
Andrew Dominik

Based on the Novel, "Cogan's Trade"
by George V. Higgins

Now when I read that Andrew Dominik was setting out to write and direct a new American crime film with Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, and Richard Jenkins, I was threw the roof. Considering, he made one of my all-time favorite films of 2007 and of the last decade, The wonderfully crafted, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Which was more of a psychological Charles Dickens-esque take on the American western. From the moment the unique opening sequence kicked in explaining Jesse James, you knew you were in for something special.

Now Dominik is simply a director who does not like to work very often. His first film, Chopper, was an exciting, interesting, but also a heavily flawed debut back in 2000, with Eric Bana in the title role. Then Jesse James came out seven years later. Now, five years later, in 2012, we have his latest film, Killing Them Softly, which is based on the 70s set novel, Cogan's Trade.

The story centers on two dumb criminals who think they're smarter than they are, Frankie and Russell (played by Argo's Scoot McNairy and Animal Kingdom's Ben Mendelsohn), who work for a shady fella named Johnny Amato (played by Johnny Sac himself, Vincent Curatola).

Long story short, Johnny assigns the two crooks to rob a mob protected poker game, run by local mobster, Markie Trattman (played by the underrated Ray Liotta, in one of his best performances to date). They consider the job to be foolproof, considering Markie had robbed his own poker game a while back and blabbed about it, when he was drunk, to a bunch of his friends, thus putting the word out there, that he was in on it. So now, they think that once they rob the game, they'll immediately get away with it, because everyone will immediately point fingers at Markie, and Frankie and Russell will get off, scot free. Sounds perfect, doesn't it? No. Things go bad. REAL BAD.

Once the game is robbed, which was quite possibly the best scene in the entire movie (the suspense was astonishing), they call in local enforcer, Jackie Cogan (played by a super cool, Brad Pitt, in a not so super convincing performance), to investigate the robbery and essentially clean up house.

Now as the film unfolds and all the colorful characters dip in and out of each other's lives, we start to be bombarded with a very obnoxious political message, serving as commentary over the 2008 financial, economic meltdown. I mean, if I were to see one more television in a bar playing Obama or George Bush talking at a podium...

The political message takes no time to jam it down our throats. From the very unique, though a bit annoying, opening title sequence to literally, the final shot in the movie, it is thrown at us. And not in a clever way.

The dialogue and the acting are the strongest elements of the film. James Gandolfini plays a fascinating 3-dimensional Hit Man, who used to be quite the big shot and somewhat of a hero in the eyes of Jackie, but has hit rock bottom due to too much drinking and depression. So pretty much if Tony Soprano was a Hit Man. However, he was one of my favorite characters in the entire film. And he barely did anything, but talk to Jackie. Now that's acting.

Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy have the most hilarious scenes in the film. They're banter back to back about women, drugs, and previous jobs, are quite amusing to watch. Ben Mendelsohn sure does play mentally unstable quite well.

You can say the film is a black comedy, but really. With the exception of a few humurous lines of dialogue from Brad Pitt and Gandolfini, only Mendelsohn and McNairy serve as the comic relief.

The major acting standout for me though, was Mr. Ray Liotta. A major change of pace from the usual tough guy, hard hitting characters he's been playing ever since 1986's Something Wild. Liotta sure does take quite the beating throughout and the film makes no apologies for any of it.

The violence is also fascinating to watch. Dominik literally builds sequences around the violence cut together with a very unusual, kinetic soundtrack consisting of everything from Johnny Cash to The Velvet Underground.

Yes, many things annoyed me about this film. Yes, too many things were overdone. And yes, Brad Pitt was a little unconvincing as a tough guy gangster, but all in all. I enjoyed the film a great deal. Every single frame is so unbelievably unique and well crafted. Dominik loves to take a certain commercial genre and just flip it on its head and do a whole different spin on it. He did with the Biopic genre with Chopper, the Western genre with Jesse James, and now with the Crime genre with KTS. And for that, I commend him, whether it's a misfire or not, you have to respect him for not being traditional.

KTS is by no means for everyone. This is a film built mainly for film aficionados. The violence is few and far in between, but it's worth it when it happens.

Put it this way. If you love Drive, you'll like KTS.


"The only way you can learn from making films is by making them, by putting your stamp on them." - Stephen Frears (director of The Hit and The Grifters)

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