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.