(2012)2.5Jeremy WheelerOne scene in Andrew Dominik's adaptation of George V. Higgins' novel Cogan's Trade sums up his approach to the film perfectly: No, it's not the endless hammering home of Bush-era financial hardships, it's a simple one featuring a song playing while a character shoots up some smack -- and the song is "Heroin" by the Velvet Underground. Yes, Killing Them Softly is that obvious. While the film does feature some nice acting work by top-notch performers, it's hampered by a heavy-handed approach that doesn't give enough credit to its audience. While Dominik flourishes when it comes to the picture's excessive violence, he seems to be unable to balance those sequences with the drawn-out scenes of dialogue, which, while delivered nicely, kill any momentum the film might have had. Softly remains a stereotypical indie that indulges in the director's vision over what's best for the movie.
Brad Pitt headlines as Jackie, a mobster called to Boston to investigate a heist pulled off by two bozos (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn). In the line of fire is Markie (Ray Liotta), a gangster in hot water since it was his card game that was held up -- it's the second time that's happened, and in the first incident he himself profited by hiring men to rob the gambling ring that he was in charge of. Although innocent, Markie takes the brunt of the blame, leaving Jackie to pore through the city in the hope of finding the creeps who unknowingly made the worst mistake of their lives.
The film will no doubt be praised for its performances (including a fine turn by the unheralded McNairy), but those looking for a vehicle in which Pitt plays an uncompromising tough guy will be a little disappointed by what they find here -- for one, most of Pitt's screen time is dedicated to dialogue scenes in cars. Additionally, his extended interactions with James Gandolfini, while true to the nature of a book in which whole chapters are dedicated to criminals talking about their marriages and sex lives, just reek of verbal excess. Then again, Killing Them Softly doesn't really know how to be subtle, as evidenced by the endless running political commentary that's meant to connect the financial crisis to America's criminal underworld. Dominik doesn't let the viewer get away from the point he's trying to make, and just like using the most stereotypical song about heroin during a scene when someone uses the drug, it screams for the filmmaker to lay off the pretense and let the story and his impressive visuals speak for themselves.