‘Killing Them Softly’: Review

'Killing Them Softly' Review

I like what Killing Them Softly is trying to do in theory, the problem though is that it never fully materializes into anything beyond the surface level. Andrew Dominik’s film desperately wants to be a smart crime/heist flick that revels in the post-2008 Obama era world. I like the idea of moving beyond the typically bare-bones crime film that doesn’t just stick to dealing with low-level cops and criminals and their push-and-pull with each other, and adding layers. The downturn of the economy and its reverberations through the blue collar cities, its impact on crime, and on a base level of how it effects the day-to-day life of everyday people is the main driving force behind the film. This is great in idea, but the execution of the film keeps everything at a surface level. Every reference of parallels to the government and the the similarities from low-level crime to big business and the common ground to federal level dealings is all hit upon in too obvious and broad strokes. There are short clips of Obama and current news clips that are so on the nose to what the film is trying to put across that it seems like a lecture at times. The subtlety is lost for the majority of the film, and even through its sparse running time seems like an exercise in following the themes put forth.

I’m a huge fan of Andrew Dominik and although I don’t think the content and themes work all that well here, there are some things that do. Like his previous two films Chopper and The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford the film is gorgeously shot in its darkness and filth. By trying to focus on the seedy elements of post-economic depression life in prototypical east coast working class city, Dominik is able to make these images pop and feel real and lived in. “Jesse James” is possibly the most gorgeous shot film I have ever seen, one in which any paused still from that film could be hung on a wall and deemed art. Killing Them Softly is incomparable due to a difference in time period, genre, scope and intent, but Dominik’s sheen is still present and in doing so lifts it beyond any stock crime film, and that alone keeps the professionalism high. The acting is another positive all the way around, with Brad Pitt putting in a very solid if not a hugely assuming role. He doesn’t get all that much to work with, but because he’s Brad Pitt he elevates his character of Jackie Cogan to great heights that probably wouldn’t be even seen by a lesser actor. James Gandolfini and Richard Jenkins are great fun and Ray Liotta is a little too hammy for my tastes in his role, but thankfully he doesn’t overstay his welcome too much.

I had high expectations for Killing Them Softly, given the pedigree the film was produced with, but unfortunately they fell a few yards short. It looks good and seemingly acts the part, but I just can’t get past the too blatant comparisons to the economic times and how it parallels with lower crime and city life. Don’t get me wrong, I like this direction, it’s a great corner to peel at, but it comes off so in-your-face that it hardly lets you breathe. We all get what the film is trying to do too blatantly, and conversely pulling back on the reigns a bit would have cloaked the broad strokes and left us with the specific and crucial ties to this allusion to our current economic climate.

6.5/10

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‘The Great Gatsby’: Review

The Great Gatsby Banner

Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is the type of film Kanye West would have always just playing on repeat in the background of his mansion. It’s lavish, lush, includes indulgences in fine cars, clothing, buildings and wealth in general, and Jay-Z executive produced the score. Yes, much of the film is surface level schlock and glamour, did I mention it’s in 3D as well, but it’s certainly an interesting and diverse take to such a literary stalwart and classic piece of fiction. Hearing a few years back that they were going to make a 3D version of “Gatsby” sounded like an April fools joke, or some kind of funny or die sketch that wasn’t very funny. Indeed, Luhrmann is the king of pomp and fancy, the Michael Bay of extravagant love stories if you will, and god bless him he went all out.

It’s almost like a certain aversion to the original piece, just like how Gus Van Sant drastically remade Psycho by… remaking it shot for shot. I don’t mean to imply that Luhrmann’s hates the novel, quite the opposite, but I don’t think he cares for the respect and panache that these pieces hold that they always have to be adapted in a specific strict and serious way. Luhrmann maintains the core tenants of the novel, the themes and overall message, but does so in a way that pokes around the canon of the novel and introduces a flair that can and is hokey and exploitative at times, but as well as outlining the almost alien world these characters are living in.

The Jay-Z scripted soundtrack is a little jarring at first, but it seemingly tones down as the film goes along. If I recall there’s really only a couple direct Hova hits that they play, quite early at that, and the rest of the film is current popish stuff, but not entirely rap and hip-hop as it might seem at the outset. I never thought I’d hear Jay’s seminal classic “Izzo” in an F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation, but here we are.

The acting is uniformly good, with no real weak link that could have easily sunk a so-so movie to begin with. DiCaprio pretty much perfectly embodies Gatsby in his prominence and look as this rich playboy, but with that vulnerability and seething tension lurking underneath. There is always a violent DiCaprio outburst out of nowhere in every one of his movies, so why should this one be any different. I haven’t seen Tobey Maguire in awhile, and he’s fine if not afforded all that much to do, but does well as the connective tissue between the the audience and the characters he encounters. Carey Mulligan is mostly up to the task if not seeming a little vapid at times. Joel Edgerton might steal the show at parts, being equally up to going toe-to-toe with DiCaprio and fully embodies the arrogant energy of his character. Jason Clarke is also good in his, like, three scenes, not really worth mentioning, but Jason Clarke is awesome and should be in everything, so I’m mentioning him.

I don’t recall the 3D really wowing me, that’s not a slight or compliment either way, and honestly seemed pretty cohesive into the colourfulness and “popping out” nature of the colours and structures that it never stood out in an obvious way. I guess that’s compliment towards what 3D should be doing in these films, just simply outlining and broadening features already on screen, not creating it’s own narrative and distractions that take you out of the film. Overall, the look of the film is very refined and simultaneously modern and classic at the same time, a direction that worked for me as long as you’re smart enough to separate the two and not take everything so seriously.

Also, DiCaprio wears a pretty slick sweater for a few scenes, so be on the lookout for that.

7.5/10