For the first twenty minutes of Killing Them Softly, the new gangland drama starring Brad Pitt, you might be mistaken for thinking that director Andrew Dominik has made the American equivalent of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
Once you get passed the fragmented opening credits – the cuts of sight and sound are so abrupt you might start thinking that something was wrong with the film – Killing Them Softly sets the tone with a marriage of quirky dialog coupled with the introduction of two low-rent mobsters who are hired to rob a card game run by the mob. The two guys are so out of their league and incompetent it becomes obvious within seconds that whatever they’re getting themselves into, it’s going to turn on them, and it does.
Throughout the robbery we hear President Bush talking of the emergency measures he is having to take to restore the nation’s confidence in the economy. The time is 1998 and the greedy have plunged the country into economic crisis. Up until this point the film has maintained an unpredictable, entertaining rhythm, then it all changes.
Brad Pitt, whose entrance is accompanied on the soundtrack by Johnny Cash’s haunting When The Man Comes Around, is a hitman hired by the mob to not only find the guys who committed the crime but to restore some kind of order to the local criminal economy. He does this by enlisting the help of a second hitman, James Gandolfini, who flies into town and spends most of his time sleeping with hookers and generally waxing philosophically at great length about the sad state of his life, and the rhythm of the film’s almost jocular pacing grinds to a halt.
It becomes obvious fairly quickly that with all the media sound bites we continually hear throughout the film, the director is trying for something different. He wants the film to be about something. Continually running parallels with the nation’s economic crisis while observing the potential collapse of the local gangland’s economy is an interesting idea, but it becomes so heavy-handed in its repeated execution that interest fades just as quickly. “America is not a country,” Pitt’s character declares. “It’s a business.”
Plus, the film doesn’t help itself by making its moments of violence so incredibly painful and over indulgent. When Ray Liotta is attacked by two thugs, he is pummeled at length so thoroughly with extra kicks to the body that whatever tone the film originally established has now gone. Watching Liotta’s character beaten with such severity is a mistake. The character is not overly bright, but he’s likable. In fact, he’s the only likable figure in this uneven project. Having to witness his fate in such grueling, bone-crunching detail succeeds only in turning the film against you.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 97 minutes Overall Rating: 5 (out of 10)