Killing Them Softly (2012, Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, and Richard Jenkins) shuffles its opening titles into an Obama speech. The word “Killing” flashes on screen, briefly cutting off and into candidate Obama’s appeal for the betterment of self and society. The effect is a bit jarring, and I liked it. It tells you that this movie has an idea. That is, it let’s you know that this won’t be an ‘un-movie.’
From there, a mostly gripping crime drama ensues, centered on the heist of a card game among members of the local mob. One of the nice things about this movie is that the mob is never explicitly defined; it’s more of a casual mob. That fits the town’s setting — an anonymous, bereft, bankrupt community hit by the recent American economic crisis. It turns out the town is New Orleans, but that wasn’t obvious to me at all watching the movie — there are no scenes in the French Quarter or flooded-out wildlands of the Lower Ninth Ward (see this great New York Times article on that). Nor did I catch any signage or other location indicators, and none of the characters had a dialect which would indicate New Orleans. No jazz either. Rather, the setting seemed like any former industrial midwest city — I thought it could be Detroit. The director does a nice job using drifting debris to give a sense of the wasteland environs.
At times the movie got a little too self-indulged and cutesy for my tastes. The interspersing of speeches by both President Bush and then-senator Obama throughout the movie wore out its welcome. The director has stated that he wanted to create an analogy between the American financial crisis and the crisis encountered by the film’s characters — gambling on a corporate, global scale embodied in the microcosm of these small-time hoods and their gambles. The comparison did not sit entirely well with me; it introduced a tinge of cynical political commentary that I found distracting.
Also distracting was James Gandolfini’s drunken-hitman character. He fit in with the other characters well enough, but the limited storyline involving him felt like filler material to me. That strikes at another weakness of this movie — it gets a little laggy in the second half.
Nonetheless, Killing Them Softly is a good movie. The subject matter has been trod many times — Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels [prior post] and Kubrick’s Killing come to mind as better alternatives, but this movie has its place. It has a wry humor reminiscent of Fargo, and strong dialog and scene development you could call ‘Tarantino-esque’. There were good, believable performances by all, and one of principles, actor Scoot McNairy as Frankie, delivered a great, empathic performance — the heart and soul of this picture. 7/10, which would place it just behind Flight on my Best of 2012 list.