Fri 30 Nov 2012
Based on a novel by George V. Higgins, “Killing Them Softly” comes from screenwriter/director Andrew Dominik. It revolves around a fixer (Brad Pitt) who has to ascertain, and then rectify, the parties responsible for robbing his bosses’ illegal card game.
The film boasts an almost ridiculous wealth of acting talent. Pitt takes top billing but the quality of his measured approach to the character is mirrored by the rest of the cast. Scoot McNairy, who is almost a chameleon in his roles of late (“Monsters“, “Argo“, the upcoming “Promised Land”), delivers a superb performance; as do Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, and Ben Mendelsohn (another lesser known name but he was so good in “Animal Kingdom“). This is the kind of ensemble that should be spoken of in the same breath as “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “44 Inch Chest“, where the mere collection of actors so skilled in their craft should be enough to draw true film fans into a theater.
Like those other films, this is a rather dark tale. It is, after all, about a couple of guys (McNairy and Mendelsohn) hired to rob a card game run by some heavy hitters. The mafia-like syndicate’s mouthpiece is Richard Jenkins, who gives the okays and hands out the money to people like Pitt who are there to protect their interests and standing amongst the criminal underbelly.
One of my biggest reservations about Dominik’s previous film, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” was the glacial pacing but the economy with which he charges through this story is one of the most impressive aspects, with “Killing Them Softly” coming in at 97 minutes. It is a somewhat simple story in terms of plot points but the discussions that take place between characters are fascinating and so well acted that watching them feels almost like a cinematic gift; even more so in 2012′s movie landscape.
Dominik also delivers on the grim aesthetic of the world populated by these criminals. You won’t find a lot of sunlight in this movie, the sound design is masterfully handled, and when violence erupts now and again, it’s handled with graphic precision and, at times, a visceral beauty that will leave its images stirring on your mind long after the credits roll. That’s not to say this is about huge, choreographed action sequences – far from it. Dominik’s screenplay is the underpinning that gives the actors such a strong foundation to develop their characters as their scenes play out. The movie is first and foremost a collection of discussions between the characters as they march towards what seem to be almost predestined outcomes, though that doesn’t stop the desperate among them from trying to claw their way out of their fate.
Another added element to the proceedings is juxtaposing the world these characters live in with the political rhetoric being bandied about at the time of the financial collapse. Throughout the movie, excerpts of speeches by former President George W. Bush, then Senator Barack Obama, and other politicians and pundits are interwoven into the proceedings. All of this blustering perfectly frames the proceedings of the movie and elevates the already great script.
Hopefully it won’t be another five years before Dominik’s next project, as he almost seems to be mimicking Terrence Malick in the frequency of his films (with the astoundingly good “Chopper” coming out in 2000 and “Jesse James” from 2007). This is the kind of quality work audiences should expect when plunking down $42 to see something in theaters these days. As long as you can handle violence and appreciate great acting utilizing such a carefully crafted script, “Killing Them Softly” ranks right up there amongst the best films of the year and should not be missed.