Roberta Flack is so ironic.
Brad Pitt stars as mob hitman Jackie Cogan, who is hired to hunt down three low-level criminals (Ben Mendelshon and Scoot McNairy) who robbed a mob-protected poker game, that just so happened to be run by a top mob-boss (Ray Liotta).
I think it’s pretty clear by now that this is not the typical, shoot ‘em up action-thriller everybody, as well as the trailers/posters/TV ads have all been making it out to be. It’s a thriller, that uses the suspense and actual thrilling-element of this movie in talks, discussions, and most importantly, it’s pacing. If you go into this movie expecting that, you’re going to have a hell of a time, but if you don’t, you’re going to find yourself dozing off quite a few times and wondering just when the hell somebody’s going to get their head blown-off. Trust me, it happens but you got to have some patience. Actually, quoting a Guns N Roses song would have probably been a bit better, but hey, that’s just me.
Another justice I think you would be doing this movie before-hand, is seeing writer/director’s Andrew Dominik‘s last-movie that came out a couple of years back called The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, because with that movie, you’re expecting a whole bunch of show-downs, people getting lassoed by bandits, people drinking whiskey, hookers flinging themselves around beds like pillows, and many, many trips to the local saloons. However, like this one, that movie depended more on it’s conversations between characters to really build things up and get to that point of where you actually get to see heads blown-off and feel like you just witnessed something totally, and completely awesome. Once again, you’ve got to have patience and see Dominik’s last-movie to really understand just what the hell to expect. I did both, and I feel great.
What makes this movie so entertaining is that right from the start, you know that it’s going to be full of tension and suspense but how the film goes about it is something that really caught me by surprise. Instead of going right for it, starting off with the heist and getting-on with the simple plot at-hand, we get back story we get character development, and we actually get time to know what type of people/atmosphere we’re dealing with, and whether or not it’s exactly what we expected in the first-place. Hell, if you think this movie is going to be your typical, gangster shoot ‘em up-like thriller, then you’re going to be dumbfounded once you actually realize that it’s already been 25 minutes into the movie, and we have yet to actually see the lead-character of the show.
And speaking of that lead-character of the show, Brad Pitt does an amazing job as the ruthless and toothless hitman known as Jackie Cogan. What makes Pitt so damn great and compelling in these types of roles that he chooses that are like Cogan, is that he looks and feels like this guy who just goes out there, wants whatever type of bloodshed he can get for money, and take it anyway he can, but at the same time, still be the smartest guy in the room that knows more than you may think. Because of this aspect to his character, we are always on-edge watching Pitt in every single scene he’s given because you know he has composure, you know he can play it cool, and you know that he’s not a slouch when it comes to getting the job done the right way, but you also never quite know just when the hell the switch is going to flip, and he’s going to take over anything and everything that stands in his way. Pitt is great with these types of roles and watching him play a character that was one-step ahead of everybody else around him, was just as fun to watch him, as much as it was for him to actually portray it.
Make no means though, because this is still Dominik’s movie and he still never lets you forget about it. His last movie felt like he was trying a bit too hard to go for that Malick look and feel, but here, the only type of style that I think he comes close to is the one of Stanley Kubrick, and that’s just me reaching for the stars. There’s no real style that this guy portrays and even though he may not have his own yet to where I can look at a frame or two and declare, “That, my friends, is an Andrew Dominik picture”, there is still something about this guy and the way he paces his movie’s and their stories to where he can do real-damage.
But then again, there were also these times where I felt like the guy was trying a bit too hard to be like his main character Cogan: one-step ahead of everybody else. In a way, that’s not a bad thing because it keeps us, the viewer on our toes as to what to expect next, but it also makes this movie seem like it’s biting-off more than it could possibly chew. For instance, the whole political-message is very bothersome and wasn’t as heavy-hitting as I thought, except until the very-end and everybody’s starting to spout-out some form of political exposition about how the world works, how our economy does what it does best (ruin lives, sorry too political), and how people are able to make a living (ruin lives, once again, too political). I get it, the story here of Cogan having to come in and take care of a mistake that the mob made is the mob’s own-form of capitalism, but that doesn’t mean in every single, freakin’ scene of the movie where there is a radio/TV present, that we have to hear the voices or see the faces of Obama, McCain, or George Bush. It doesn’t get that annoying, until you actually focus on it and realize that maybe Dominik should have just stayed with all of the conversations, by building-up a message and great deal of suspense, up until we get the bloody-violence, in that way and then we would have had a more clearer, understandable thriller that’s nothing but.
Then, when you actually do think about the bloody-violence, then you can’t think of anything else except for how freakin’ awesome it is. Just like in Jesse James, the violence doesn’t take over the whole story and make you feel as if you’re watching an action-epic of the highest-order, but only shows-up in short spurts in the most violent, most disturbing, and most realistic-way possible. A couple of scenes that come to my mind is one that concerns a slow-mo, build-up of a hit conducted by Cogan, and another scene where Ray Liotta gets his ass beat to a bloody pulp. The reason why it sticks-out so clear in my mind is because it’s not like what you expect from a movie like this: the guy yells, screams, and pleads for his life just like you or I would, and what’s so shocking and disturbing about this, is that the guy is a mobster-like character that shouldn’t feel pain, be scared, or even cry like a little girl. It’s bloody, ultra-violent, and very realistic in the way it portrays the pain felt for one character, and the pain we the audience feel when we watch a guy get the ever loving shit kicked-out of him. Gawd, I miss that feeling.
Speaking of Ray Liotta, this is probably the best piece of work he has done in the past-decade (that’s if we’re including Tommy Vercetti) and just goes to show you that the guy may be a mean-old, nasty mobster-dude that doesn’t take shit from anybody, but also is pretty human, too once you think about it. However, everybody else is pretty damn good too, to where you almost feel like the show can’t be his, or anybody else’s for that matter. Richard Jenkins shows up as the corporate handler who is hired to meet and talk “business” with Jackie, and does a great-job playing the ultimate square, but also a guy you sort of feel for since he is totally out of his element in terms of what there is for him to do, how, and why. Scott McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn play the two crooks that get a bit too hot-headed after the whole robbery and are both very different in their portrayals, but also seem like the two, perfect guys to come together on something like this that could really seem to go either way. Especially Mendelsohn who with this, Animal Kingdom, and The Dark Knight Rises, is playing the corrupted, evil-as-hell characters that we all see and hate in these types of movies, but yet, can’t keep our eyes off of, either.
The one that really steals the show out of the whole cast and may, just MAY, have a slight-bit chance of getting himself nominated for an Oscar this year is James Gandolfini as the old mobster that Cogan brings back to help him out on the dilemma he has at-hand. From the first-shot, you think that this is going to be Gandolfini playing, surprise, once again another Tony Soprano-like mobster, but this is the farthest thing from it. Yeah, he’s still ruthless, mean, and nasty as hell, but he also has a bit of a drinking-problem that escalates into us seeing underneath a convention we already know about in so many similar movies like this: the mobster. Like Liotta, Gandolfini’s portrayal of a mobster is subtle with his angry-emotions, but not so subtle with his sad ones, neither, and this is what culminates into the two best scenes of the whole movie and makes you feel like Gandolfini really needs to come back and bring-out quality performances like these, once again. Hell, I wouldn’t have even minded watching a whole movie where it’s just him and Pitt, shooting the shit about life, money, and crime, the way two old mobsters like to do it, and with the the two scenes of that I got here, I was happy.
Consensus: Going into this movie and expecting exactly what you see in the ads for this movie (countless shootings, crime, and cool walking scenes), then you’re going to be terribly disappointed with what the final-product of Killing Them Softly truly is: a slow-burning, tension-filled thriller that relies more on the performances, than the actual-violence that takes place itself, no matter how bloody or gruesome it is to watch.