Down Under director Andrew Dominik’s politically pessimistic crime drama “Killing Them Softly” hits theaters this weekend, starring Brad Pitt as a numbed hitman in an atrophied, Recession-roiled America. Critics are of two minds about the film: On the one hand, it shows masterful visual skill and boasts strong performances, while on the other, it becomes bogged down by its own message with a capital M. Reviews are mixed to positive; a roundup is below.
The movie debuted at Cannes, one of two Weinstein Co. films to meet lackluster reaction there (the other was “Lawless”). Dominik’s second film, Brad Pitt western “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” –long as it was–was a far better movie than violent talk-fest “Killing Them Softly.” Pitt is terrific as a ruthless hit man who tries to minimize psychological damage for his victims, but the film’s political metaphor–gangsters as microcosm for corporations run amuck in Recession America–is heavy-handed. Character vets James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins and Ray Liotta make strong contributions to the ensemble while relative newcomers Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn hold their own as an entertainingly bumbling duo.
“Everything in ‘Killing Them Softly’ that springs from George V. Higgins’s 1974 crime novel Cogan’s Trade is very fine: grimly amusing then shockingly brutal. It’s when New Zealand–born director and screenwriter Andrew Dominik veers off course to give us his deep thoughts on the American character that it’s a head-slapper. The effect is genuinely odd.”
“Dominik shows an open appreciation for his actors and for the way tough guys, aspiring and genuine, talk to each other — and ‘Killing Them Softly’ is as much centered around talking as it is action. Pitt, playing a practical know-it-all who falls somewhere between Rusty Ryan and Tyler Durden, is terribly entertaining shooting the shit with Driver (Richard Jenkins), the representative of the unspecified group who hired him, the two complaining about the new “total corporate mentality” like disgruntled office workers on a smoke break.”
“In the last scene Mr. Obama’s victory speech provokes a cynical tirade from Cogan, who scoffs, in a carefully nonpartisan fashion, at the president-elect’s idealism. “America isn’t a country; it’s a business,” this thoughtful killer declares, turning to one of his colleagues. ‘Now give me my money.’ Fair enough. But it’s still a free country, and you don’t owe this movie anything.”
“Dominik’s direction waltzes toward and away from excellence. The heist scene is scathingly suspenseful. Dominik divides his camera between Frankie and Russell’s macho bumbling and the many ruffled patrons in the room whose hands keep wandering south of the table. He shoots the looting much like an actual poker game — keeping an eye on everyone, alert to scheming. A sequence where Russell gets high is lyrically shot, with the camera fading in and out to black a ballsy number of times. Some may find it annoyingly bloated. But it shows commitment.”