Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Short Take: Killing Them Softly

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Director Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly is a considerable step up from his previous effort, the pretentious, slackly made, and interminable The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Existential crime drama appears to suit him better than the existential Western; he maintains his focus a lot better. Someone also appears to have prevailed on him to keep the running time to a reasonable length. At 98 minutes, this effort is a good hour shorter. The story is lowlife pulp. A New Orleans dry cleaner (Vincent Curatola), who supplements his income with occasional heists, decides to rob an organized-crime gambling operation. He hires two bums (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) to do the job. After they pull it off, the mob brings in one of their top enforcers (Brad Pitt) to find out who perpetrated the crime, and take them out. The film isn’t long on plot; it’s largely a collection of dialogue scenes of the sort that actors love. Essentially, the cast gets to deliver colorful monologues at each other. But they do well by it, and there’s strong work from Pitt, Curatola, McNairy (the American bum), Richard Jenkins (who plays Pitt’s mob contact), and James Gandolfini (as a washed-up hit man). The action scenes are sleekly designed and executed, although Dominik’s penchant for slow motion and other visual gimmicks is a tad excessive at times. It’s a solidly enjoyable genre film, and one doesn’t even mind the pretentious moments, such as the occasional juxtapositions of speeches from the 2008 presidential campaign and financial crisis. (This culminates in a bit of take-it-or-leave-it popcorn cynicism in the final scene.) The script, credited to Dominik, is adapted from the novel Cogan’s Trade, by George V. Higgins. Greig Fraser provided the handsome low-key cinematography.

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