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‘Killing Them Softly’ and Artfully

by Eric Melin on December 7, 2012

in Reviews,Video Reviews

Check out videos of all my movie reviews on KSNT-NBC, KTKA-ABC, and KTMJ-FOX, Kansas First News.

The best crime movies are able to strike that tricky balance between a tense plotting and solid character building.

Dog Day Afternoon, Chinatown, and L.A. Confidential spend equal time building suspense and getting inside the heads of their unlucky protagonists. Even Pulp Fiction, which deconstructs the genre in the most thrilling of ways, spends lots of time allowing its gangsters to prosthelytize on all kinds of mundane subjects before doing their dirty work.

Killing Them Softly, on the other hand, favors the character side of things way more heavily. It’s all the more complex and interesting for it, but calling this movie a thriller at all is a bit of a stretch.

Director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Chopper) dissects the criminal psyche with loads of conversation between lowlifes, all during the 2008 economic crisis and first election of President Obama.

Essentially, Killing Them Softly is an ensemble piece, but Brad Pitt plays Jackie Cogan (who used to be the title character in the book Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins from which the movie is adapted), a hitman-enforcer type who cleans up other people’s messes. When a couple of scuzzy, heroin-addled dum-dums (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) knock off a mob card game, Cogan hires another professional killer (James Gandolfini) to help him take the losers out — and nothing goes as planned.

killing-them-softly-movie-reviewDominik indulges his curiosity often with close-ups on nasty, sweaty men who have backed themselves into all kinds of tight corners. All the while, Dominik is seemingly ignoring whatever plot development might seem important at the time. His fetish for the banality of their lives makes up the bulk of Killing Them Softly. The dialogue is equally crude, disgusting, and revealing while the political overtones come off more and more heavy-handed as the movie progresses.

But Killing Them Softly finds its own rhythm and eventually its own way of building dread, punctuated by bravura cinematic moments that won’t soon be forgotten — like a graphic slo-motion murder and a hazy, drugged conversation that switches POV and slips in and out of consciousness.

The trailer makes it seem like a fast-moving story with lots of punchlines, but it doesn’t unfold that way. Dominik takes his time and is operating strictly art-house machinery. It’s a bleakly funny movie too, with Pitt providing the film’s final, wicked punchline in the only moment where his pulse seems to be raised above normal.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers and regular critic for KCTV5. He’s a member of the BFCA, VP of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also the current 2013 Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Reed January 27, 2013 at 10:07 pm

I couldn’t figure this movie out. I mean, I think I got everything, but what was the point? And how does it relate to the financial crisis and politics? Is there a metaphor here or not? In the end, I felt it was just a bunch of small vignettes which I enjoyed, but that none of it really mattered. Stylistically a success, with some very good acting, but thinking about this movie gets me nowhere. Did I miss something? Because it seemed that they were going for some deeper themes, but either kept them too buried or didn’t sufficiently think them through.

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2 Eric Melin January 29, 2013 at 7:20 am

Well, looking back at Brad Pitt’s final words (which were hilarious, by the way), I think Dominik spells it all out for us. US politics is a business, just like everything else, and it’s more broken down than even the crime world.

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3 Steve Dave February 17, 2013 at 7:23 pm

This movie is CRAP. Pure and simple. Pitt’s worst movie.

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