Killing Them Softly

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Re: Killing Them Softly

Postby Sonic Youth » Tue May 22, 2012 8:47 am

Killing Them Softly
By Justin Chang
Variety


A routine, even mundane crime story relayed in tones of world-weary fatigue, "Killing Them Softly" deglams the mob movie to coolly distinctive if rarely pulse-quickening effect. Trading in pleasures of a deliberately rarefied sort, writer-director Andrew Dominik's talky, character-rich genre piece largely short-circuits thrills to sketch a grimly funny portrait of thugs taking care of business, in every rotten sense of the word. Results are at once a bit pretentious and worth savoring by those who don't mind a low-octane approach, spelling moderate B.O. for the fall Weinstein Co. release, though a well-cast Brad Pitt could enhance its prospects.

Though it runs a fleet 97 minutes and finds Dominik in a relatively light mood after the brooding dramatics of 2007's "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," "Killing Them Softly" is similarly a film about the complications and hesitations that precede the decision to murder a man. Like its predecessor, this confidently made picture is minutely attentive to process, marked by occasional arty flourishes, and in no hurry to get to the payoffs. No one really wants to hurt anyone in this battered, beleaguered world of disorganized crime, but it's got to be done, and with as little expense as possible in these cash-strapped times.

Indeed, the picture cynically and over-insistently foregrounds the economic crisis throughout, updating the setting of George V. Higgins' 2002 Boston-set novel, "Cogan's Trade," to Louisiana in the weeks preceding the 2008 presidential election. Lest one miss the tale's topical import, TV screens and radios are continuously blaring speeches by President George W. Bush and then-candidate Barack Obama, full of false hope and lofty talk of choices and consequences, repeatedly suggesting that the era's financial gloom and air of general malaise have trickled down even to America's scuzziest back alleys.

It begins with the setup for a particularly pathetic crime, as pudgy midlevel crook Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) taps ratty up-and-comer Frankie (Scoot McNairy) to rob a card game run by mob hustler Markie (Ray Liotta). To Johnny's chagrin, Frankie foolishly chooses perpetually strung-out loser Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) as his partner. These two dumb kids proceed to hold up the game and make off with the mob's stash, in one of the few sequences that delivers a jolt of tightly coiled suspense, albeit stemming more from the culprits' bumbling incompetence than from anything else.

"You know they're gonna kill ya?" Markie murmurs to Russell mid-heist, a look of genuine sympathy on his face. The movie goes on to glumly prove his point, as his higher-ups bring in their smooth, reliable and unfailingly pragmatic enforcer, Jackie Cogan (Pitt), to wipe out those responsible. When suspicion falls on Markie, Pitt becomes the very picture of a reluctant assassin, one who kills strictly out of professional obligation and often hires others to do the dirty work. "I like to kill 'em softly -- from a distance," he says, summing up the joyless efficiency with which he goes about his job.

Retaining the pungent, Elmore Leonard-esque tang of Higgins' dialogue, yet rendering it tighter and more comprehensible for the screen, Dominik's loquacious screenplay employs a stop-and-go rhythm, dominated by lengthy, two-character exchanges punctuated by potent spasms of violence. Not even a routine beating can be dished out without copious amounts of planning, hedging, negotiating, arguing and cussing beforehand, the goombah equivalent of bureaucratic red tape. When the attacks do arrive, they're amply foreshadowed, alternately sped up or slowed down for heightened dramatic impact, yet drained of anything that might be mistaken for a rush of pleasure.

Certainly not for all tastes, especially those of straight-up action fans, the picture's restraint places a considerable burden on the actors to maintain interest, which they shoulder impressively. A couple of them get great, tongue-in-cheek entrances; Pitt's Jackie, sporting shades and slicked-back hair, packs just a hint of a strut as he strides into the frame backed by Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around." James Gandolfini, amusingly disagreeable as a hitman who's let his taste for booze and prostitutes ruin his killer instincts, is introduced getting off a plane like a shlub attending a sales convention.

Appearing exclusively opposite Pitt, Richard Jenkins socks over his turn as a bespectacled, tight-laced mob liaison with a particular aversion to cigarette smoke. Sam Shepard has a too-brief turn as a local rough, but Liotta, in only a few minutes of screen time, makes poor Markie a figure of real pathos and enormous likability; casting of Liotta and fellow screen-gangster icon Gandolfini slyly underlines the pic's notion of the cruel-to-indifferent fates that await everyone in this bloody biz.

Skillful technical package is distinguished by Greig Fraser's color-muted widescreen lensing, Brian A. Kates' deft editing and Leslie Shatz's subtle sound design, employing occasional drones and dissonances in lieu of a score. In keeping with the economic realities impinging on the story, the film was shot in Louisiana for tax-incentive purposes; while the rundown locations are well suited to the story's gone-to-seed atmosphere, the absence of New Orleans color and the indiscriminate mix of tough-guy accents suggest these sorry-ass proceedings could be taking place anywhere.
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Re: Killing Them Softly

Postby Sonic Youth » Tue May 22, 2012 8:45 am

Killing Them Softly
22 May, 2012 | By Mark Adams, chief film critic
Screendaily


Dir/scr: Andrew Dominik. US. 2012. 104mins


A deliciously stylish hard-boiled crime drama, Andrew Dominik’s violent and bleakly funny film is a grimly nihilistic film that revels in its harsh and brutal urban landscape. Writer/director Andrew Dominik makes great use of the widescreen format and fills his film with visual quirks to sit alongside the smartly written dialogue, and working again with Brad Pitt (the pair made 2007’s The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford) has come up with a remarkably pertinent crime film that reflects the tough times facing America.

Based on George V Higgins’ 2002 Boston-set crime novel Cogan’s Trade, Andrew Dominik has used the core story of an enforcer who is called in by the mob to take care of business, but set it against the backdrop of a country in the midst of its election in 2008. In the background the scenes of gunplay and tough conversations between men to whom violence is second nature there are extracts of politicians debating the future of the USA…but as Brad Pitt’s leather-jacketed enforcer Jackie Cogan points out when demanding his payment: “America isn’t a country – it’s a business”.

But while Dominik uses the ambient sound – via radio and television – of political preaching to help define the backdrop, he is really at his best when filming the glistening wet streets of a partially derelict city. Using a series of stylish cinematic flourishes the resulting film is a dark parable as well as being a seriously impressive old-fashioned crime film.

Two petty thieves Frankie and Russell – played respectively with real relish by Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn – are recruited to knock off a poker game run by Markie Trattman (Liotta). A mob linkman (a wonderfully pragmatic performance by Richard Jenkins, who bemoans his bosses slow-decision making abilities while also trying to knockdown hitmen prices) brings in enforcer Jackie Cogan who is asked to sort out two thieves, the man who hired them and Markie Trattman.

Cogan negotiates to bring in Micky (an excellent Gandolfini), another hitman, but is bemused and disappointed that he has lost his edge and is more interested in quaffing martinis and arranging for hookers is hotel room to fulfil the deal. Eventually Jackie has to take responsibility – he favours killing from a distance as he dislikes the emotional impact of close-up murder – and sets about sealing the deal.

There are a tremendous series of set-piece cinematic moments – ranging from a super slo-mo close-up of Jackie’s automatic in the rain as he shoots Markie to Russell drifting in-and-out of a drug-induced haze as he tries to explain where he has been – as Domink crafts a memorable crime film, with Brad Pitt reinforcing his acting reputation as a commanding screen presence.
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Killing Them Softly

Postby Sonic Youth » Tue May 22, 2012 7:50 am

Watch out for spoilers.

Killing Them Softly: Cannes Review
by Todd McCarthy
Hollywood Reporter


A juicy, bloody, grimy and profane crime drama that amply satisfies as a deep-dish genre piece, Killing Them Softly rather insistently also wants to be something more.

Writer-director Andrew Dominik, whose extraordinary Western The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford proved too long and arty for the masses, repositions George V. Higgins’ 1974 Boston mob world novel as a metaphor for the ills of American capitalism circa 2008, a neatly provocative tact. But he also shamelessly shows off his directorial acumen; unlike the leading character, who’s all business, Dominik makes sure you notice all his moves. Tight, absorbing and entertainingly performed by a virtually all-male cast topped by Brad Pitt, this Weinstein Company release should looks to generate solid mid-level business this fall.

A lawyer, professor and assistant U.S. Attorney who long investigated organized crime in addition to writing 27 novels, Higgins knew well of what he wrote. His first novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, was made into a fine film and his third, Cogan’s Trade, the basis of this one, consists of torrents of exceptionally vivid Beantown wiseguy dialogue with bits of plot tucked almost incidentally into the chatter.

Moving the action to decimated post-Katrina New Orleans without a tourist in sight, Dominik has done a keen, disciplined job of coaxing the plot out of the shadows while retaining the flavor of underclass lingo and attitude. With the background dominated by then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s optimistic speeches stressing the availability of “the American promise” to all, some bottom-feeding crims plot what looks like a no-risk scheme: Old-timer Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola, the great Johnny Sak of The Sopranos) hires unwashed kids Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelson) to raid the regular card night run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), who once robbed his own game and got away with it.

While allowing these low-enders to emerge in all their miserable glory, Dominik also adds his own flourishes right from the outset, from striking lateral camera moves to amusingly supplying one of the young hoods a pathetic little dog. Despite their general ineptitude, the boys pull off the job, but this is bad news for Markie, as it’s going to be assumed he’s run the same scam a second time.

At least this is what is suspected by the unnamed and unseen corporate mob, which has cog-in-the-system “Driver” (Richard Jenkins) engage shrewd hit man Jackie Cogan (Pitt) to deal with this disruption of business as usual. Needlessly, Markie gets horribly beat up, Cogan brings in another hired killer, Mickey (James Gandolfini) to help him with a double-killing, and plenty more blood gets spilled before order is, after a fashion, restored.

Although the plot bases are dutifully, if briefly, covered, this is a crime story like so many others in which it doesn’t really matter if you can follow who everyone is and why awful things are happening to them; it’s basically a given that everyone on view is guilty of something, so you can’t feel too badly when they come to grisly ends.

What matter more are style and attitude, which Dominik ladles on like sauce on ribs. Russell’s drug-addled disorientation is represented by multiple distortions of time, visual perception and sound; the pursuit of one victim is imaginatively covered entirely from the outside of the building in which the chase is consummated; Cogan arrives on the scene to the accompaniment of Johnny Cash’s “When the Man Comes Around;” the just-scraping-by 21st century hoods drive late-‘60s-early-‘70s cars like a Riviera and Toronado, and one man’s execution is rendered from many angles in a slow-motion explosion of breaking glass and penetrating bullets so elaborate and prolonged that it resembles a self-standing art installation.

In a related way, some of the dialogue scenes, especially a couple of near-monologues superbly delivered by Gandolfini as a booze-guzzling, sex-obsessed, past-his-prime hit man, almost have the feel of brilliant, free-standing acting class scenes; they serve the film’s purposes, to be sure, but there’s a self-consciously showy aspect to them that makes you easily imagine students using them as audition pieces.

The film is terribly smart in every respect, with ne’er-a-false note performances and superb craft work from top to bottom, but it never lets you forget it, from Pitt’s pithy excoriation of Thomas Jefferson’s hypocrisy right down to his “Crime is the business of America” final line that is bound to be widely quoted.

The film noir crime dramas of the late 1940s and early 1950s were about a palpable unease in the country, but this remained a subtext rather than the overt subject of the films. Here, Dominik explicitly articulates his intended meanings, which have to do with money, institutional rot and what happens when you don’t keep your economic house in order. Either approach is valid but, perhaps in this day and age, audiences need their messages to be quick and direct. Killing Them Softly delivers them that way.
"What the hell?"

Win Butler


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