At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Killing Them Softly “2012”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Killing Them Softly “2012”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Neo-Noir Crime/Stars: Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Vincent Curatola, Ray Liotta, Trevor Long, Max Casella, Sam Shepard, Slaine/Runtime: 97 minutes

I think it is fairly safe to say that, as he managed to showcase with his take on the Western genre of movie magic known as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford from 2007, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see that slice of cinema’s scribe and helmer Andrew Dominik would not synch his handling of the crime genre up with what audiences feel a cinema crime saga should be. Indeed his fairly well thought-out, or it could be argued, relaxed handling of the saga of one Jesse James was paired up with incredible acting and beautiful cinematography that came together to say something about how this legendary outlaw could become a fairly illustrious individual in the annals of United States history. Suffice it to say that with his slice of cinema from 2012, and film I am reviewing for you today incidentally, known as Killing Them Softly, Dominik again makes his way to some familiar turf for him courtesy of hinting at a unavoidable tie between acts of criminality and that nefarious emotion greed as sinister fallout as a result of the purported independent framework that America was constructed on all the way back in 1776. Yet perhaps the most intriguing thing about this slice of cinema is that, unlike his previous film, the nuance is no longer an undercurrent to the exploits taking place on screen. Rather, it is a very much on the surface component that all but oozes out of this fashionably visceral and briskly moving slice of cinema. Suffice it to say that it may have phenomenal work both in front and behind the camera, but this is one slice of crime cinema that never aimed to be a run of the mill entry in that genre due in part to how it trades nuance for boldness. As such, it might not be for everyone, but there is no denying that for the audience that gives this a chance I think you’ll be rewarded with one of the more novel crime films of the past decade.

The plot is as follows: Taking us back in time to the long-ago year of 2008, Killing Them Softly gets its magnetic crime saga underway as we are fairly swiftly introduced to a trinity of men consisting of a slightly anxious young man named Frankie, an Aussie expat by the name of Russell, and a criminal old-timer by the name of Johnny “Squirrel” Amato respectively. A trinity that, among other noteworthy things about them, are all fairly low-brow criminal slime who are all working together on a proposed robbery of a top-secret yet very much frowned upon by the eyes of the law Mafia poker game that the higher-ups in the criminal hierarchy have arranged to be run by a guy named Markie Trattman. Now lest you think that these guys are complete and utter morons that’s not entirely the case. You see dear reader, the reason that they have chosen this particular game is because a period of time before the events of this film took place, Markie had arranged for his card game to be held up and then discreetly made a decent amount in the aftermath all while under the impression that he would get away with the whole thing since he believed that people would feel his possible participation to be an absurd notion. Of course, this was also before Markie later on had a moment of idiocy in which he laid bare his culpability in the whole affair. Suffice it to say that our trio of idiots are aware that by robbing Markie’s game, it’ll once again put a whole lot of heat on him and thus permit them to sneak away scot free. Unfortunately what our witless wonders really failed to take into consideration is that apparently the criminal network is one that, much like the U.S. government (imagine that), has its own checks and balances system in place. A system that we soon see personified in the form of an enigmatic yet suit rocking man who seems to be a top lawyer for “the organization”, but who also has been given the green light by his bosses to accomplish three things. Those being to do whatever it takes to reclaim their stolen money, but also to find those responsible and in the process restore order to things any way he sees fit. As such, it is this man who, under the sage advice of an older enforcer by the name of Dillon, decides to bring in a skilled hitman by the name of Jackie Cogan to help him in this mission. Suffice it to say that it is up to our “hero” to hunt down those responsible and take care of the situation even if he has to first actually locate the people responsible to say nothing of make a few compromises along the way….

Now although Killing Them Softly is by no means a slice of cinema that is action-packed from beginning to end, that still most assuredly does not mean that it waters down acts of violence when they occur. Rather, this slice of cinema makes the point to have every moment of on-screen violence feel as visceral and painful as possible. A phenomenal feat that I feel can mostly be attributed to the fact that the sound design department for this slice of cinema is so well-done that every time a fist makes contact with a person’s body you wince in pain and every time a gun is fired into a person you find yourself desperately moving in your seat as if to get out of its path before it hits you too. Perhaps the best example of the former is a scene in this where a certain character (not going to tell you who….sorry; that would be a spoiler) gets absolutely pummeled over and over again in a manner that is not only incredibly well-choreographed, but also bloody and brutal in the “best way possible”. As for the latter, that would take the form of a scene that utilizes the idea of slo-mo in a manner out of something like 2012’s highly underrated Dredd and manages to mix together a trinity of the most awesome things that are often shot in slo-mo. Namely firearms, a steady downpour of rain, and quite a bit of glass being broken. Suffice it to say that the cinematography in this might be quite simplistic, but it also does a wonderful job at being as depressing as possible thus fitting in with the overall mood of this slice of cinema perfectly. I say that because, in case it wasn’t obvious, this slice of cinema is one that is dreary, quite a bit dreary, dreary in nearly every way possible, and even though there is a fair amount of snarky comedy at play in this it also is humor which revolves around material that is quite….(wait for it)….dreary in nature. Suffice it to say that the dreariness is strong with this one. Jokes aside, I will also add that although the narrative of this slice of cinema is one that is fairly simplistic thereby making it fairly easy to traverse, it also operates on quite a distinct structure. That being that even though he is, for all intents and purposes, the film’s protagonist Brad Pitt’s character really doesn’t make his entrance into the film until about twenty minutes in. As a result we see that the first twenty minutes or so of this 97-minute (including credits) runtime slice of cinema chooses to concentrate on the trio of low-brow criminal screw-ups who set everything in this slice of cinema’s narrative in motion. Yet even though this might be a teeny tiny bit odd, I can understand why the narrative is told in this manner since it helps flesh out to a fair degree the people our protagonist is hunting. A choice that then permits the actors in these parts to portray fairly solid characters rather just enigmatic bullet points on a hit list that exist in the story simply as fodder for our main character to gun down and move on with his day. Finally, if there was a component of this slice of cinema that actually managed to (albeit inexplicably) surprise me, it would be the fact that this slice of cinema also manages to incorporate into its narrative a very noteworthy and pointed political statement to it. A statement that, if you didn’t know this was part of this film from the trailer, soon makes itself fairly obvious courtesy of Obama/McCain campaign materials seemingly being everywhere in this right down to televisions in bars airing Obama as he spoke with the country about optimism to say nothing of trying to unite as a country again. A plea which falls on deaf ears since we witness a lot of moments where we see just how crumbling apart and just plain torn apart the crime-ridden neighborhoods in the city where this slice of cinema takes place really are thus suggesting that, contrary to what politicians wanted people to believe, perhaps things in the United States weren’t as optimistic or hopeful for a lot of people at that time. Yet even though it can be a bit heavy-handed at times, I will say that for the most part it does manage to work fairly well within the narrative framework of this slice of cinema.

Now the cast that has assembled here to bring this riveting crime saga to life are all top-flight in every sense of the word. This starts with Brad Pitt, not one to shy away from sleazy roles that rely more on his acting ability than his pretty boy looks, and he is terrific in this. Indeed Pitt does a wonderful job at giving us a man who may be ruthlessly efficient at what he does, but who also can be quite charming and wryly comedic at the same time. Perhaps the best example of this is when he is trying to figure out what to do with a character and argues more in favor of just straight up murdering the guy rather than beating him up first since why should the dude go through the wringer before being put down. Suffice it to say that it is one heck of a lead performance, but coming from Pitt I can hardly call that a surprise. Yet in addition to the work done by Pitt, we see that this slice of cinema is blessed with a terrific collection of support performances. Indeed as the idiotic yet also desperate and more than a little bit bumbling in every sense of the word undynamic criminal duo who set the events of the film into motion, McNairy and Mendelsohn are not only really good, but they also fit into the world of this film in a manner that feels genuinely organic as well. We also get a really good performance from the late yet great James Gandolfini that actually manages to make his most iconic role of Tony Soprano seem like a genuinely upstanding and fairly decent individual. A feat that is only possible incidentally since his character in this is one that may be wallowing in a tide pond of booze, but who is also absolutely grotesque both in actions he commits and in words that come out of his mouth as well. Finally, they may not get the most screen time in the world, but we also get terrific work in this from the always delightful Ray Liotta who manages to show his acting chops in a movie again instead of just simply going over the top and Richard Jenkins who brings a wry yet anxiety-stricken at all the chaos around him approach to his role respectively. Thus this slice of cinema may have some issues here and there, but the work done by its cast is most assuredly not one of them.

All in all is Killing Them Softly a perfect slice of crime cinema? Not even close. Indeed this is a slice of cinema that is sadly stricken with the fact that not only is some of the comedy a wee bit too forced at points throughout, but there are also some style choices in this that may not have been all that needed either. Having said that however, this slice of cinema may not be the best and best in terms of overall film or even in its respective genre, but a bad slice of cinema this does not make. Indeed the skill behind the camera is well done, and the talented cast that has been assembled in front of the camera is top-notch in every sense of the word with a wry and fantastic Brad Pitt leading the way. Suffice it to say that it might be a bit too introspective to say nothing of grimy and bleak for a fair amount of movie goers, but if you are the kind of movie goer who is willing to give it a fair shot, Killing Them Softly is one slice of cinema that manages to operate as a wonderfully keen to say nothing of extremely lean cinematic breakdown of not just the American Dream, but also of the present day cinematic crime saga as well. Make of that what you will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Killing Them Softly “2012” a solid 3.5 out of 5.