PG Cooper: Killing Them Softly Review

Posted: December 6, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews


Killing Them Softly is very reminiscent of this year’s Lawless. Both films are directed by Aussie filmmakers (Softly by Andrew Dominik, Lawless by John Hillcoat) trying to break into a more mainstream audience with a seemingly more commercial effort. Both directors are known for their previous films being dark and morally ambiguous. Both have directed a revisionist Western and both reused talent from their Westerns in their 2012 efforts. And Killing Them Softly, like Lawless, can be seen as a good film but also a mild disappointment.

Mickey Trattman (Ray Liotta) is a professional criminal who runs a high stakes poker game. Years ago, Trattman decided to rob his own game. The incident has been forgiven but not forgotten, prompting small-time criminal Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) to hire some small time hoods to knock over the game, assuming the mob will just blame Trattman. Instead, the mob decides to bring in hitman Jackie Coogan (Brad Pitt) to sort things out.

My plot synopsis is a little inaccurate since I made no mention of the U.S. financial crisis from 2008. Despite having no direct connection to the plot, Andrew Dominik feels the need to constantly shove the financial crisis down the viewer’s throat. I had problems with the lack of subtlety in films like The Dark Knight Rises and Flight, but Killing Them Softly takes things to a whole other level. There are scenes where the camera will focus on a TV set during a news broadcast related to U.S. finances. Nothing else is going on in the frame either, it’s literally just politics smacking the audience in the face.

The script here is quite problematic. Certain scenes drag on with nothing actually happening. I wouldn’t mind except the dialogue in those parts is not very well-written. It isn’t bad really, but it isn’t good enough to justify nothing happening. That said, there is some genuinely good dialogue here too. Most of Jackie Coogan’s lines are chilling and badass, and I especially loved his speech about “killing them softly”.

Like I said in my opening paragraph, Killing Them Softly is a good film so I should probably bring attention to the things I did like. Well, the acting is pretty good throughout. Brad Pitt’s Jackie Coogan is a total badass and his presence adds a lot to the film. I doubt the role was much of a challenge for Pitt, but he’s good all the same. James Gandolfini does a great job as the aging mobster clearly past his prime, and Richard Jenkins is good as essentially a pencil pusher for the mob. Making a big impression in my opinion is Ray Liotta who creates a very likable and sympathetic character with very little screen time.

Andrew Dominik employs some really unique directorial flourishes throughout. I’m not sure why he made some of the choices he did, but I admired them all the same. Highlights include an unconventional opening, a drug trip, and a brutal slow motion assassination. Speaking of brutal, I should mention the violence here is pretty gruesome. It’s not David Cronenberg levels of depravity, but it’s not too far off either. I will also say I do find the themes the film explores interesting despite the heavy handedness.

To circle back to my Lawless comparison, I will say that Killing Them Softly is a superior film and less disappointing. Mainly because the core flaw of Lawless is the film plays everything too safe. It’s a very conventional film. On the other hand, Killing Them Softly is a very unconventional and daring film which takes huge risks. The problem is that a lot of the choices made don’t work. Overall, Andrew Dominik’s previous film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is far superior, but Killing Them Softly is still an enjoyable film which I respect greatly for its ambition.

Rating: B+

  1. CMrok93 says:

    I’m not surprised that the regular, movie-going audience isn’t responding to this so well, mainly because it is slow and full of more talking, than actual action. However, that was my favorite aspect of the flick and it just kept me watching the whole time. Good review PG.

  2. I agree with you almost entirely here PG. There are a number of slower moving parts, and the dialogue isn’t really that fascinating to keep a high level of interest. And all the economic parallel stuff really gets in the way…

    You’re right though. at the end of the day, it still winds up on the decent side of the equation, but definitely nothing great :(

  3. le0pard13 says:

    This one seems to be polarizing a lot of people. I still may check it out while in theaters. Thanks, Daniel.

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