Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Killing Them Softly

Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini in a mob tale with a heavy message.

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The concept of organized crime as a dark mirror image of American capitalism was firmly established in The Godfather 40 years ago. But it seems to be a hot new idea for writer-director Andrew Dominik, who beats it to death throughout his new movie, Killing Them Softly. The picture is a talky noir set in the meltdown year of 2008. It's littered with Obama campaign sound bites and radio bank-bailout reports, and the thudding political allegory keeps poking you in the face while you're trying to keep track of the story. (Even the film's title, an apparent reference to remotely guided U.S. bombing sorties, is intended to wake us up to what's going on in the world.)

The movie is based on a 1974 crime novel by George V. Higgins. The book was set in Boston, and while the picture was shot in New Orleans, the characters all talk like they just flew in from Dorchester. There's some remarkable violence (a brutally beaten man blows bloody chunks out of his ruined mouth) and a big showoffy slo-mo rubout in a storm of bullets, blood, and shattered glass. But these action jolts are outnumbered by long stretches of gab. Fortunately, it's a stylish gab, in a neo-hardboiled manner, and the actors make the most of it.

Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn play Frankie and Russell, two ex-cons in search of post-release employment. They're drawn into a scheme to knock over a mob-run high-stakes card game—a plan that would normally be suicidal, except that Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), the guy who oversees the gambling action, once knocked over the long-running game himself, and then unwisely blabbed about it. In the event of a second ripoff, Markie would be the natural candidate to take the fall.

Bumblers though they be, Frankie and Russell do manage to pull off the heist; and mob higher-ups do indeed target Markie as the culprit. A mob lawyer (Richard Jenkins) brings in a coolly efficient cleaner named Jackie (Brad Pitt) to teach Markie the last life lesson he'll ever learn. Jackie is a cynical realist; he accepts that this has to be done, just for appearances' sake, even though he has learned that Frankie and Russell are the real malefactors.

Jackie decides to subcontract this mess out to a New York hitman named Mickey (James Gandolfini). Mickey was once a top whack specialist, but when he arrives on the scene it's clear that he has seriously deteriorated. He's now a fat nasty drunk with an insatiable letch for whores and a full complement of personal problems about which he blubbers at length. Mickey was busted recently and may soon be headed for prison. He has put his wife through this wringer twice before, and this time he suspects she won't be waiting for him when he gets out.

Gandolfini's griping sessions with Pitt are peaks of scuzz pungency. His Mickey is a man who could be said to have lost his way if he'd ever had one in the first place, and Pitt—quietly radiating star presence—lies back to let him bellow and squirm (and viciously berate a hooker, played by sparky Linara Washington, who is the only woman of any consequence in the movie). Thanks to the loose, semi-improv dialogue, we feel for Mickey—even if what we mainly feel is disgust.

Pitt, who can hold the screen without saying a word, gives the movie's grubby complications some clarity, and he keeps the story on track. Unfortunately, he's also the mouthpiece for the director's simpleminded political agenda. His Jackie is repelled by the heedless destruction wrought by his mob overlords (read: corporate oppressors) and dismayed by the sorry state of the hapless lowlifes (read: oppressed workers) with whom he must associate. At the end, he attempts to rationalize his own complicity as an enforcer in such an unjust social setup. "This isn't a country," he says. "This is America. And America is a business." Start spreading the news.

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  1. Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn play Frankie and Russell, two ex-cons in search of post-release employment.

    1) Why wouldn’t you choose a stage name if you were born with the name “Scoot McNairy”?

    2) Please tell me “Scoot McNairy” is NOT your chosen stage name.

  2. Pitt, who can hold the screen without saying a word

    “And that’s when you cross it; the border. You’re at Taco Bell, where they serve the new Doritos LOCOS taco!”

  3. Dude seems to know what he is talking about overthere.

    http://www.anon-ut.tk

  4. “It’s littered with Obama campaign sound bites and radio bank-bailout reports, and the thudding political allegory keeps poking you in the face while you’re trying to keep track of the story.

    Thanks for the warning.

  5. yeah, the satire is simpleminded, but I suspected it would be before I saw it. And I am in sympathy with the free market principles being satirised. So I just kicked back and enjoyed my kinda people taking care of business, and Dominik’s black humour.

    BTW Ben Mendelsohn is superb as an Aussie junkie. “You can get a dozen Aussies like that for 80 cents and they’ll throw in one for free”. How very true.

  6. It’s littered with Obama campaign sound bites and radio bank-bailout reports, and the thudding political allegory keeps poking you in the face while you’re trying to keep track of the story.

    Sounds like a shoo-in for Best Screenplay.

  7. The concept of organized crime as a dark mirror image of American capitalism was firmly established in The Godfather 40 years ago.

    Control the narrative, isn’t that the term?

    All the more reason to use the much more accurate description of the government as protection racket, of the thug-state and its thuggery as a routinized shake-down operation, and of politicians as the power-worshiping sociopaths that they are.

  8. Damn it, I hate it when director’s ruin movies by shoving the viewers nose in the director’s own politics. Try taking a lesson from Kubrick people.

  9. Brad Pitt plays the same character he has played in every other movie he has been in? Whoah!

    1. That’s a bit unfair. Watch 12 Monkeys, Burn After Reading, Kalifornia, Snatch, etc. for some diverse Pitt.

  10. “This isn’t a country,” he says. “This is America. And America is a business.”

    -OMG, he really said that?? I might just download a pirated copy of this movie off the intertubes and not watch it.

    What other hard-earned platitudes will Hollywood jizz into our hair?
    “You either play. Or you get played. Feel me?”
    “The world is getting warmuh’, but the people getting cooler, mang? Feel me, dawg?”
    “Life is like chess, see? You either a king.” Shakes his head “Or you just a damn pawn, yo.”
    That’s just from The Wire obviously.

    Doesn’t it all boil down to some basic claptrap about how people only care about the benjamins and don’t care about people, no moh’. Feel me?

    I can hear my lib friends now, “Did you see Killing Me Softly? It’s on point, right? Really makes you think, ya know.”

    1. “This isn’t a country,” he says. “This is America. And America is a business.”

      -the next innovation in film entertainment — and you’re all welcome to join me in this venture — an interactive component to the cinematic experience where we get to tell Pitt’s character to “SHUT THE FAAACK UP!”

  11. Jackie is repelled by the heedless destruction wrought by his mob overlords (read: corporate oppressors) and dismayed by the sorry state of the hapless lowlifes (read: oppressed workers) with whom he must associate.

    Sheesh, they can’t even keep from injecting some “OMGZ KORPORASHUNZ!!!111!!!1elventybillion!1” drivel into a mob flick.

    1. I’m sure there’s a subplot where Jackie (Pitt) struggles to find a way to get birth control pills for his sistuh’, Linda. And then Jackie’s father, Paddy O’ Doyle, Sr. is dying of cancer and there’s this whole spiel about how he can’t pay for his cancer treatment. Because of those damned mob overlords.

      Another bit of Jackie’s dialogue: “Naomi Wolffe once said, ‘The thing about America. We used to be a country that cared’ (yelling at neighbor)….Eh, will you shut the fuck up! I’m having an important monologue with my wall ovuh’ heaaa…Disaster capitalism, bitches.”

  12. “The book was set in Boston, and while the picture was shot in New Orleans, the characters all talk like they just flew in from Dorchester.”

    Why would you bother replacing one oafish incomprehensible accent with another? To get the same god damn headache?

    1. Versimilitude, Sully.

      (that was stated with a Southie accent).

  13. Gandolfini’s griping sessions with Pitt are peaks of scuzz pungency. His Mickey is a man who could be said to have lost his way if he’d ever had one in the first place. Thanks & Regards http://www.adelinahost.com

  14. I have always found it amusing how a mob allegory is supposed represent capitalism when the mob is so linked with unionism, as I recall it’s even referred in the Godfather about beating up some strike breakers, but I might be misremembering. The mob, quite obviously, has so much more to do with unionism (which after all is a labor racket) and predatory government than capitalism. That’s not to say that Force has never been used by certain elements, particularly when very basic resources are being contested (at the root where the right of first possession is blurry – e.g. homesteaders versus free rangers) and that a mutated breed of crony-capitalists emerges in proportion with the growth of the State, but it stands that a racketeer is a racketeer whether it’s a union boss, a mob boss, or a politico-bureaucrat. The methods are the same.

  15. I love it when multi-millionaire producers working for a multi-billion dollar studio hire a multi-millionaire director and several multi-millionaire actors to lecture us on the evils of money and the market process of acquiring it, then hire a multi-billion dollar marketing firm to get us to go to the multi-billion dollar theater chain to watch on the hopes that we’ll buy it from the multi-billion dollar distribution company on DVD and Bluray and watch it again on our $2,000 flat screen TV, purchased from the multi-billion dollar retail chain and manufactured by the multi-billion dollar electronics company, all from the comfort of our recliner from the multi-billion dollar furniture company. Look how salient our critique of capitalism is!

  16. I’ve accepted that the overwhelming majority of the actors, directors, musicians, etc, that I like are leftists, and I’ve learned to lay that aside and enjoy their work. But that gets a lot harder to do when an entire production is nothing more than a pean to leftist ideals.

  17. I just kicked back and enjoyed my kinda people taking care of business.TIP122

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  26. Frankie and Russell are the real malefactors. R?ya TabirleriYemek Tarifleri

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