Killing Them Softly (2012) – Review

2 Stars

Killing Them Softly is based on a 1974 George V Higgins novel titled Cogan’s Trade. Every synopsis I’ve come across purports the film to be about professional enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) as he investigates the heist of a mob-protected poker game. That’s a small part of the actual movie. Pitt is onscreen for maybe thirty minutes out of the hour and a half running time. It’s a classic bait and switch, there’s a big difference between ‘Brad Pitt’s the star of this film’ and ‘Brad Pitt is in this movie’. This is really about the heist and the rippling repercussions the robbery has throughout the mafia world of New Orleans set against the backdrop of America’s economic problems of the near past (and still persisting at the time of this review). Will Cogan get his man, or will I fall asleep first?

I’ve never read Cogan’s Trade, but clearly this film has been updated from the nearly forty-year old novel. How much has changed I couldn’t tell you. This is a laboriously slow paced crime drama that sacrifices storytelling efficiency for wanna-be artistic merit. Killing Them Softly reaches to be the Watchmen of gangster movies. It’s a didactic mess of talking heads. There’s so much dialogue in this film, it’s a wonder they ever get around to killing anyone. The artistic brutality is unwarranted and frankly out of place. Yes shooting someone in the head through a car window in slow motion looks cool. But it’s not as big of a ‘wow’ factor as the film-makers think, especially when I don’t care about the shooter or the man being shot.

The performances are overly intense, with Pitt doing a reduced version of his face touching routine. Unfortunately the acting is muted as actors are given mouthful after mouthful of dialogue to regurgitate. Watching two people talk for ten minutes straight in a car (which is most scenes) takes a little bit away from every delivery, and after some time the hand gestures and eyebrow raising just seems normal. This movie talks itself out. And while I’ve seen the blurbs about how ‘brutal’ Killing Them Softly is, it’s not enough to save the film or inject any sort of energy into it. The production feels cheap and while it does have a large cast including A-lister Pitt, the majority of the players are type-casted mafia men such as James Gandolfini, Vincent Curatola and Ray Liotta.

This is the kind of artistic fodder The Weinstein Company salivates over, and it’s no wonder they picked this one up. I don’t understand how after so many years in the business The Weinstein’s just don’t get the medium of film. Stop trying to cram an idea down people’s throats. In this case I don’t need you to connect the dots from how the mafia runs things to how Wall Street runs things. If you need to keep throwing in these discussions into your dialogue for your audience to make the connection, then maybe the movie isn’t really about what you’re trying to make it about. This is a film that’s supposedly about two guys who rob a mafia run poker game and the guy that comes in to clean up the mess. It’s not about the government or America or Wall Street. Parallels can be drawn, but it’s not the film-makers place to force those parallels onto their audience.

Killing Them Softly tries too hard to be too relevant for a cheap mafia crime drama and ultimately comes off as a preachy bore.

Director: Andrew Dominik
Stars: Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn

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