Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Killing Them Softly

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Andrew Dominik’s latest Brad Pitt collaboration is a meditation on the modern mob—a corporate entity with as much bureaucracy as the United States government, and as much panache as a foreclosed nursing home. ★★

Killing Them Softly comes to a focus after two amateur criminals (an annoying Scoot McNairy, whose name says it all, and the always superb Ben Mendelsohn) rob a Mob-run card game. Brad Pitt’s enforcer Jackie enters, at the behest of the mob, to set everything right. Consulting the mob rep, known simply as Driver (Richard Jenkins knocks it out of the park again), Jackie pivots to the man known as Squirrel, a peripheral mob man who masterminded the game’s hijacking that forces the local mob economy into a recession of sorts.

Dominik, director of the much revered The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, assumes from the get-go that his audience will eventually catch on to the intricacies of his characters’ pasts, and the baggage they all carry will come in revelatory waves of appeal.  James Gandolfini’s washed-up Mickey is the best example of Dominik’s lack of insight. Although Gandolfini’s performance is a powerful and tragic one, his presence—and the presence of Ray Liotta (who goes against type to wield a mousey, pathetic fool)—suggests, nay, insists that this is indeed a mob movie.

Taking place during the financial meltdown of 2008, George W. Bush, Secretary of State Henry Paulson, and soon-to-be President-Elect Barack Obama pervade a number of scenes, each talking about the economy and the events that lead to the near-collapse of the entire world economy.  And yet, it is the generation-defining drama we all experienced years ago that is far more intriguing than Dominik’s Mob death certificate.

Even Pitt, who has come into his own as a great actor, comes up short—a rarity owed to flatly written characters across the board.

If it weren’t for the forever-quotable final line uttered by Pitt—“I’m living in America, and in America you’re on your own. America’s not a country. It’s just a business. Now f*ckin’ pay me.”—this movie might have fallen completely silent.

About the Author

Ian Tilman Nichols

Author & Editor

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