The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, director Andrew Dominik’s previous effort, was a slow paced movie that turned off audiences but for those who had enough patience, it was a wholly rewarding experience. I was part of the latter crowd and it certainly was an impressive film that I consider to be very underrated. Dominik now has attempted to replicate that success in Killing Them Softly and reunites with Jesse James star Brad Pitt. Like Jesse James, Killing Them Softly is just as slow paced but far more lackluster. It’s hard to ignore how messy Killing Them Softly is and the result is a major disappointment for those who enjoyed Dominik’s previous work.
Killing Them Softly takes place in 2008 in a post-Katrina New Orleans. A guy named Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) holds poker games regularly for the mob. One night two gangsters (Vincent Curatola and Ben Mendelsohn) hold up the poker game and make off with a great deal of mob money. Suspicion rises that the robbery was an inside job, and soon hitman Jackie (Brad Pitt) is hired to sort out this problem.
Killing Them Softly is sort of a mash-up between many mob movies. Much of its cast made their names in other works based on the mafia (Ray Liotta’s most famous role was in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas and The Sopranos’ James Gandolfini also stars in the picture). These comparisons vastly hurt Killing Them Softly, as it doesn’t nearly match either GoodFellas or The Sopranos in quality. Killing Them Softly deviates from an average gangster picture by being driven by dialogue instead of action. This isn’t necessarily a problem, since both GoodFellas and The Sopranos had many great quotable scenes (who can forget Tommy DeVito’s “funny how?” speech), but there’s a feeling that Killing Them Softly thinks it’s a much smarter movie then it actually is. There’s plenty of juicy dialogue, but most of it never fits naturally in the picture, seeming disjointed in the picture.
But what really kills the movie is the not-so-subtle metaphor to the economy. Since 2008, the failing economy has no doubt been significant to the United States and the rest of the world. Some movies have well adapted economic anxiety on the screen (Jeff Nichol’s Take Shelter is a fine example). Dominik, however, bashes this allegory on the audience’s head. Killing Them Softly is filled with political and economic speeches that appear throughout the picture. The film is really trying to compare the declining power of the mob to the flailing economy, an idea that’s intriguing, but unfortunately Dominik executes it badly. He brings some fine performances from his actors, particularly with Brad Pitt, but they’re not enough to save the picture.
I’m being very harsh on Killing Them Softly and it’s probably a bit better than what I’m making it out to be. There are some very interesting elements to the picture and for a while I was gripped by the story. But the faults outweigh the positives and seeing the director and cast I expected something much more. I really wanted to like the picture but just can’t recommend it. Despite it being well meaning, Killing Them Softly is a failure.