12/6/2012 - Robbers stick up gangsters at an illegal poker game in Killing Them Softly, a cautionary tale about why not to do such a thing.
Idiots Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) are convinced by Johnny (Vincent Curatola) that though a poker game is mob-protected, it is easy pickings for two enterprising young men who’d like to rob something. You see, he explains, game organizer Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) is rumored to have robbed one of his own games before, and if it happens again, people will assume he did it. Thusly, the guys can steal from these dangerous men but get away clean. Of course, that plan doesn’t work out at all. The big cheese gangsters call Jackie (Brad Pitt), an all-purpose enforcer, heads in to town to find and rub out everybody involved in the robbery, even Markie, even if he seems to be innocent. (You can’t have people thinking that robbing the mob is something they’ll get away with — a point that needs making even if it involves harming the “innocent.”) Jackie thinks he’ll need some help with the job since he and Markie know each other, so he calls in Mickey (James Gandalfini), a fellow hitman. Except the professional Jackie once knew is now a drunk mess who spends his time with a string of ladies of the evening (and, as it were, ladies of the mid-afternoon).
Throughout the movie, we hear clips of speeches from Obama, Bush and others on the financial crisis. You see, it’s fall 2008 and while robbers have stolen from the criminals in our little story, the world is consumed with the collapsing house of cards that was the shifty investments based on an inflated housing market. Do You See The Parallels, the movie screams at you?
Killing Them Softly feels like the senior project written for a class on Tarantino Studies taught by Professor Oliver Stone. I’ve seen this movie praised for its zippy dialogue. I suppose if mannered, showily mafia-inflected monologing is considered electric, then, sure, Killing Them Softly is one spicy meatball. But it is so heavy-handed, so on the nose (cold-blooded punisher Brad Pitt is introduced with Johnny Cash’s “Man Comes Around”) that it’s like the movie is daring you to create some kind of eye-roll-gets-a-shot drinking game. (Three minutes of Ray Liotta and you’ll need a taxi to get home.)
I’ll give the movie this: Richard Jenkins, character actor extraordinaire, turns in a performance that I think best captures what this movie wanted to be. He is a representative — a lawyer, I think — for a group of mobsters who run the poker games and want the robbers caught. He is the guy ordering Jackie to find and hurt or kill the perpetrators of the robbery. But he’s also a weary middle-manager dealing with a contractor and complaining about his bosses and the discussions made by committee the way a regional manager might gripe to a vendor about his disorganized corporate bosses. It is not a particularly subtle juxtaposition of violence and corporate structure, but it is smart and funny and it works.
Unlike the rest of the movie. C-
Rated R for violence, sexual references, pervasive language and some drug use. Screenplay by and directed by Andrew Dominik, Killing Them Softly is an hour and 37 minutes long and distributed by The Weinstein Company.