“Killing Them Softly” Review: In America, You’re On Your Own

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“Killing Them Softly” Review: In America, You’re On Your Own

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Brad Pitt in “Killing Them Softly”

“Goodfellas” was the first Scorsese movie I ever saw, and to this day, it remains my favorite. If I was to guess, I’d say that writer/director Andrew Dominik (the wonderful “Chopper” and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”) feels similarly. “Killing Them Softly” gives off a very strong “Goodfellas” vibe, and not just in the casting of Ray Liotta. The film is a really great gangster movie, and has the same dark comedy elements and dialogue that made “Goodfellas” so great. Oddly enough, if “Killing Them Softly” fails anywhere, it’s with not sticking with being a gangster movie enough.

Frankie (Scoot McNairy, “Argo” and “Monsters”) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn, “Animal Kingdom”) decide to rob a mob-protected card game set up by Markie (Ray Liotta). Obviously, those who were robbed aren’t pleased, so Driver (Richard Jenkins) hires Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to go after them and take them out.

We don’t really even meet Cogan until a good 15 or 20 minutes into the movie; the first chunk is spent with Frankie and Russell planning the robbery and pulling it off. McNairy and Mendelsohn have great chemistry, and are easily the funniest, and perhaps the overall standout, actors in the film. Honestly, that opening half hour is the best part; after that, the film starts to drag a bit. The film takes its time to play out something that feels like it could’ve been only a few scenes of another movie, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The slower pace allows for a more relaxed, peaceful movie, but also has a lot of filler in what ends up being a very short movie.

James Gandolfini is essentially wasted for a couple of scenes he shows up for, and the film as a whole spends a lot of time blatantly smashing you over the head with the ideas it has about America and the recession and such. It’s set during the 2008 election and economic crash, and the film seems to take every possible chance to remind us of that. If there’s a scene with a TV on it, you can bet that either Bush, McCain or Obama is on it making a speech. If there’s a scene in a car, the radio will be tuned to the same thing. Even the opening and final scenes of the film are intercut with one of Obama’s speeches. These frequent political references quickly become distracting and just plain unnecessary.

And that’s a shame, because there is so much good stuff in this movie that the political commentary ends up bringing down. On a technical level, everything is near perfect. The film is very well shot (just like Dominik’s previous work) and has some really fantastic sound editing as well, something that usually isn’t such a standout in a film. However many shots are ruined by a TV or radio on in the background, that distracting from the rest of the visuals and sound.

Truly, this would be a much better movie if it was just set in the ‘70s, or didn’t have all these blunt political messages. Oddly enough, the book the film is adapted from had no such commentary, it was even written in 2004. It’s a strange choice, but it still doesn’t ruin the movie by any means. Dominik is still a fantastic director that makes sure every cast member makes an impression and ensures that every scene has something interesting happening, from a very artistic death to a great bit of banter between characters. It’s no “Goodfellas,” but at a slim 97 minutes (over an hour shorter than his last film) it’s well worth your time.

4/5 Stars