Sunday 23 September 2012

Review: Killing Them Softly

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

Killing Them Softly poster

Killing Them Softly (Spoiler-ish)
97 mins / Dir. Andrew Dominik

When a low-end mobster organises a robbery that leaves too many loose ends, enforcer Jackie Cogan (Pitt) is called in by the big boys to smooth things over. Unfortunately, that will mean ruffling even more feathers…

It seems like, in adapting the original novel for the screen, writer/director Andew Dominik has watched too many Tarantino movies. Brief bursts of visceral violence, with vast expanses of dialogue to expand the characters meting it out; Awkward silences, meaningful silences and threatening silences; Touches of humour, touches of humanity and touches of madness. All are present and correct, and yet something's not quite right. Lots of talking and an 'eclectic' soundtrack does not a Quentin, make.

Whilst all the stretches of conversation are competently written and delivered, I just didn't care either way about many of the characters. This is probably just as well, as toward the end of the film, a lot of them are seemingly abandoned with everything that's gone before cast aside with a brushing-of-the-hands. The worst offender in the show-don't-tell department is Gandolfini's New York Mickey, who arrives like an American version of Doug The Head, hogs the screen in building an interesting character and a great relationship with Pitt's Cogan, and is then discarded. In many respects, it feels like a 150-minute film hacked down to 97, but by the same measure, there are so many pauses that when the credits roll, you feel like you've been sat there for two and a half hours. Not a bad two and a half hours, by any stretch, but there should be more to it.

But. Despite my grumbling, I did enjoy Killing Them Softly. It doesn't get as convoluted as many of its genre-mates, and some of the cinematography here is nothing short of beautiful (I have rarely marveled, or indeed had such time to marvel, at someone being shot through the head). The referencing of the 2008 US presidential-election serves as a grounding for the film's timeline, as well as a reflection on the themes of the disintegration of America, with the nail being hit firmly on the head by Pitt's magnificent final line (which I won't spoil).

Killing Them Softly is another addition to this year's canon of 'Good, but not great' movies. Despite the fine work of everyone on-screen, the potential is there for it to be so much better.

Oh, and while it's nice that the casting director gave Ben Mendelsohn a part where he can drawl in his native Australian, Scoot McNairy seems to have trouble maintaining his American accent when he shares a scene with him. It could be intentional, of course, revealing a psychological weakness in the character of Frankie, but I doubt it, sadly. And while I'm on the subject, why does no-one in a film set in New Orleans sound like they're from New Orleans?

Beautifully filmed in some places, brilliantly scripted in others. It just struggles to do everything right at the same time.


• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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