Killing Them Softly


Brad Pitt plays a cold-hearted hit man called in to clean up after a mob poker game, run by Ray Liotta, is robbed. To do so, he’ll need the help of another trigger man, played by James Gandolfini.

As highly enjoyable as such a recipe sounds, it didn’t manage to come together for me onscreen as well as I’d hoped. As sad as I am to say it, “Killing Them Softly” is more like “Killing Them Slowly”, with other notable flaws mixed in along the way.

A small time connected guy (Vincent Curatola) gets wind of the story that years ago a local mobster, Mark Trattman (Ray Liotta), hired a couple of guys to rob his own poker game. Now he figures that if Trattman’s game were robbed again, the powers that be would assume that Trattman was pulling the stunt a second time, and never actually find who’s really to blame. So he hires a couple of very small timers (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) to knock over the game.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, those in charge (represented by Richard Jenkins) call in Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to resolve the issue. Cogan rapidly analyzes the situation and forms a plan to dispense justice. To do so, he’ll need another guy on the job, Mickey Finn (James Gandolfini). Once Finn arrives, however, Cogan realizes he… isn’t what he used to be. So plans have to evolve, but there’s still only one outcome for those that crossed the line.

Things move slowly in “Killing Them Softly”. Very slowly. After the initial robbery of the poker game, the film really puts the brakes on. And while I can appreciate a good “slow burn” movie as well as the next person, there’s a few things along the way here that were real impediments to my enjoyment of the film.

The first is that director Andrew Dominik (who also worked with Pitt on “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”) really gets in his own way. He interjects multiple “style” sequences, and I’m hard pressed to think of one of them that I didn’t want to end long before it actually did. Whether it was the gauzy out of focus sequence that signified the junkie thieves getting high on heroin, the interminable slow motion shattering glass of a bullet passing through a car window, or the triple vision entrance of Gandolfini’s character, Dominik insists on demonstrating visual techniques and frankly I don’t feel a single one of them added to my enjoyment of the film.

The second, which I would also have to put on Dominik as writer/director, is that the movie hammers home its parallels to the recent near-collapse of the banking system and its themes of American self-interest. Throughout the movie, audio of news conferences revolving around the financial crisis and Presidential election of 2008 plays – not in the background – but loudly overlaid like a soundtrack song might be. It’s put forward for you in a way that’s impossible not to miss, which… isn’t exactly how one would like their “themes” delivered. Whatever merit the metaphor may have had initially is grossly undercut by the fact that it’s essentially shoved down the audience’s throat.

Of course, there are still elements in play which make the film enjoyable in the balance. Brad Pitt plays a clever, cold-blooded killer. I think everyone can enjoy watching that. His scenes discussing various courses of action with Richard Jenkins were easily the highlight of the film for me. It’s also great watching James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, and Vincent Curatola play mobsters again. That should be a steady gig for all of them, I honestly don’t understand why it isn’t. There were also a handful of tense scenes and moments along the way, notably the poker game robbery scene and the scene where Pitt eventually confronts Scoot McNairy.

Unfortunately, between the slowness of the film, the fact that director Andrew Dominik insists on showboating, and the “Enough, enough! I get it already!” presentation of its themes, I have to admit to being very disappointed, and can’t recommend the film very enthusiastically.


34 thoughts on “Killing Them Softly

  1. Good write-up Fogs. Sorry to hear it doesn’t entirely hold up but I’m still desperate to see this. Most people seem to share your view so I’ll try not to expect too much.

    • Yeah, lessened expectations will probably help. 😦

      I havent begun to go around to other reviews yet (I hold off until mine is up), but I’m looking forward to seeing if I’m on my own in this opinion or not….

      Still worth checking out Mark.

  2. Such a shame, I thought this would be a great funny/violent movie. And whatever I can say about Pitt, he does play those crazy characters well! Is this worth seeing for his character at least?

    • Oh yeah. He’s great. Liota too, for the small part he’s given. Gandolfini is awesome, but I’m not a huge fan of his character here…

      The flick isn’t a total waste or anything. When its doing what it’s supposed to, it’s pretty good, in fact. Unfortunately, there’s too many times when it’s trying to be something else. 😦

  3. I’ll be honest, just seeing the cast for this had my excited to see it. Still desperate to catch it, and I will as soon as possible, but I skimmed your review to see your score, trying to avoid as much as possible about it, but wanted to see your evaluation. Not quite the ‘hit’ I was hoping it would be, but still can’t wait to see it 🙂

    • That’s where I was at before I went, too Tyson. The cast is incredible, and I’m a sucker for mob movies…

      It wasn’t quite the “Hit” I was hoping it would be, either. That’s the sad truth 😦

      • Same here, great cast and a mob movie starring Henry Hill & Tony Soprano! Think it has been and gone from UK cinemas near me now so will wait for the Blu Ray.

  4. Well, coming from the pedigree of “The Assassination of of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” one can hardly be surprised by the slowness of this film. I thought TAOJJBTCRF (It’s a bad sign when the abbreviation of a films title is STILL a mouthful.) was great, but its an endurance test.

    • LOL @ the film’s acronym being a complete sentence.

      Hey, I didn’t even know it was the same guy, going in… I dont think they had that on the trailers or ads or anything. Perhaps if I had been more on top of it, I’d have made the connection, but… I hadn’t.

      “Ford” is very good. Definitely more supportive of a slow moving film than this… although the “slowness” is one of my least complaints. Really I think the “artistry” bothered me the most. 😦

    • Well, if you didnt have any issues with either of those elements, Nostra, I’d imagine you liked it a LOT more than I did. LOL. Cause if I could have resolved my issues there, I might have left a happy camper!

  5. I’m a little worried that my excitement for this movie might hurt my opinion of it like it did for Prometheus. I still want to see this movie but might catch it on DVD instead. Nice review.

    • Well… we cant shy away from trailers and marketing forever, you know? LOL Got to form SOME kind of pre-release opinion CK, might as well be a good one. 😉 This film wasn’t terrible or anything, but it was a let down from what I had hoped. Of course, I could say the exact same thing about Prometheus! 😦

    • Gandolfini was great… his character, not so much. [shrugs]

      Glad you have my back here, T. Not that I’m glad you didnt enjoy it, but I would hate to be throwing a wet blanket on people’s expectations alone. 😦

  6. I liked this more than you did (it received a 90/100 from me). While the concepts are way out there, they don’t bother me. Something artistic about the film that did bother me was the beginning, when it went from walking and voice-over talking to being cut off by the production titles. GAH, that was irritating. I disliked Mickey’s character, too. In my review, I discuss some similar things that you did. My review will be up tomorrow, keep a keen eye out for it 😀

    • Yeah, that opening put me on edge and had me grousing about the directing right from the opening frame. It also begins the smothering financial collapse subtext. Ugh. Still a decent movie, but I think if we could have gotten some more straightfroward direction, this could have been a really good movie.

      And yeah, I felt bad for Gandolfini, he drew the short straw here. 😦

      • I liked all those special artistic sequences, maybe because I never did see Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (sighs in exhaustion), so I’m new to Dominik’s sort of style. At least he made this title shorter for us! LOL.

  7. I don’t know if you know it already but I can’t stand Brad Pitt so I’ll likely skip this one, Fogs. Now that’s he’s the face of Chanel fragrance I have to look at his darn face every time I go to the mall! 😦

    • LOL, I think you’ve brought that up before, yeah.

      Now he’s haunting you in the mall, Ruth 😀

      We disagree about Pitt, but I wouldn’t advise this flick too much anyways. If you were going to reassess your position on him, I’d recommend other flicks…

  8. After that review I feel a “B” rating is rather generous. I haven’t seen it yet and have heard mixed reports although I guy I worked with seemed to love the whole parallel with the banking collapse. However, by the sounds of the director’s overkill I think I’ll have a similar reaction to yours Fogs.

    • If you’re not a fan of the “heavy hand”, Dan? This’ll be a turn off for you. I recorded this week’s TPMP with Tanski last night though, and he wasn’t as bothered by the visuals, though he agreed the banking stuff didnt work…

      I dont think its that the B is generous… its a decent flick. I think that the review came across a little sour because I was disappointed to give it something less than an A. 😉 I wanted it to be a great movie!

  9. Good review, but much more kind than I would be in rating it (C- due to the slow tempo/ boring dialogue). Found the characters played by James G. /Ray L. too depressing.

  10. Dang. Sorry this disappointed you, Fogs; I know you seemed to be looking forward to it. It sounds like it might be worth a rental, but I’m not sure; those hyper-stylized segments tend to irritate me more often than not, so they might drag it down further for me.

    • I dont know… depends on what else comes out when you’re standing in front of Redbox or whatever. LOL 😀 I wouldnt go too far out of your way, but it is a very dark role for Brad Pitt. That was fun to watch…

  11. Pingback: Killing Them Softly Review: The Inverse Relationship of Style and Profitability | Rorschach Reviews

  12. I hate to say it, but I heard nothing about this film until it was released. Now I admit to not having t.v. anymore. But I usually hear about movies from a variety of sources online, from trailers, from friends who have seen the commercials on t.v. and so on. So I have had no desire to see this. Movies that are not advertised very well are usually movies that should have gone straight to DVD.

    • You know? I dont know that I agree with your final conclusion about unadvertised movies deserving dvd release… but I’ll definitely give you the fact that Killing them Softly wasn’t that widely marketed. I dont know that I ever saw any tv spots for it, and the trailer… though great, didnt seem to get attached to a lot of things.

      This wound up being more suited for checking out at home, anyways. Not one I’d push for people to go see in the theatre… 😦

  13. Pingback: Killing Them Softly / Kibarca Öldürmek Replikleri (2012) - Replikler

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