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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Killing Them Softly (Release Date: 11-30-2012)

        Brad Pitt doesn't really do 'em just for fun anymore. The world's biggest movie star used to be a mainstay of summer blockbusters and the like, but after a mid-2000's streak of tent-poles (Troy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Ocean's Thirteen), the thespian must have gotten tired of them. As a matter of fact, since 2007, Pitt has starred in only one live-action film that didn't go on to receive major Oscar consideration (Burn After Reading, which was the Coen Brothers' follow-up to their Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men, so I think Brad gets a pass). Those who expect Killing Them Softly to turn out as yet another run-of-the-mill gangster flick should know better; you don't get Brad Pitt to headline your movie unless you've got a little something special up your sleeve.

        Nothing gets a narrative rolling like the miscalculated and self-aggrandizing actions of fools. Amid the financial crisis and presidential election of 2008, mid-level mobster Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) believes he's found a way into some easy money, knocking over a local card game, and assigning the blame to tailor-made fall-guy Mark Trattman (Ray Liotta). He brings in a couple of young gunslingers (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) to do the deed, but just when it appears they've gotten away scott-free, Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) rolls into town. Tasked with locating and executing the culprits, Cogan's efforts are subsequently entangled in a myriad of corporate-style rules and regulations, and associates made desperate and sloppy by the troubled times.

         Writer/Director Andrew Dominik, Pitt's previous associate on the woefully underrated The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, has a knack for locating small, contemplative moments within seemingly rudimentary story-structures. Where James addressed fame, legend, and idolatry over a languid two-and-a-half hours, Softly squirms and shivers through a brisk hour and a half, awash with modern-times anxiety and dread. Cinematographer Greig Fraser's images prove stunningly evocative, leading eyes and attentions to dark places and notions, writing novels without saying a word.

        It's all a pip; gritty, itchy, funny, and relevant... and then it's over. Dominik's decision to pull the plug where he does is no accident: he's way too intelligent and detail-oriented to let something like that escape his watch, and the sense of deflation that accompanies the end credits feels poignant. And while some of the ideas being conveyed by this sharp drop-off are worth addressing, doing so renders the entire enterprise a bit off-balance, like a Thanksgiving dinner with load and loads of side dishes, but precious little turkey. Don't get me wrong, it's still delicious. Extremely delicious, as a matter of fact. Delicious enough to leave you wanting more, which is both this film's highest honor, and its most jarring demerit. Ignoring Killing Them Softly's accomplishments would be disingenuous; wanting just a tiny, tiny bit more would be human.

Grade: B+

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