“Killing Them Softly” Movie Review

     Based on a novel by George P. Higgins, “Killing Them Softly” is a narrow in scope, simple mob thriller which has very little to offer and barely meets the standards of this type of fare.  It doesn’t help that Brad Pitt is miscast as a mob enforcer and we as the audience are expected to buy into him being a tough guy.  Brad Pitt is a fine actor who has plenty of range, but his role as Jackie Cogan leaves him nothing juicy to work with, which makes me question why he took the role in the first place.  He has worked with director/screenwriter Andrew Dominik before in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”, but that doesn’t translate to a successful outing this time since this film recycles old mob cliches’ to anticlimactic effect.

     The film spends its first 20 minutes or so showing us the set up of a robbery of a mob card game.  It’s clear from the beginning these two low life thugs, Frankie (Scott McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), are in over the heads and you get the feeling something will inevitably go wrong.  We see the entire robbery sequence from beginning to end with Frankie and Russell wearing stocking masks that are see through and do not seem to protect their identities at all.  Now is this because they’re really dumb or is it because Dominik felt the audience would lose track of who is who in the scene?  They are also armed with a ridiculously “sawed off” shotgun and force the caretaker of the game, Markie (Ray Liotta) to open a safe in the back that contains two briefcases full of cash.

     After making a clean getaway, Frankie and Russell go on with their lives and the audience is then introduced to a constantly in slow motion Jackie Cogan (Pitt) who is brought in to find out who the robbers are and kill them.  He almost instantly knows who did it based on Russell bragging to one of his associates about the crime, but he insists Markie be taken down first to make a statement.  You see, Markie has a past in which he actually paid two thugs to take down his own card game and once bragged about it while drunk.  Because the word on the street is he may have done the same this time, Cogan believes he needs to be the first casualty.  I had said earlier Pitt is miscast in this role, but the next guy I’m going to bring up really can’t be cast in this type of film anymore.

     James Gandolfini (AKA Tony Soprano) is the hit man Cogan hires to take out Markie.  Cogan won’t do it himself because of his existing relationship with Markie.  The problem with Gandolfini here is no matter what he does in the film, he acts, breathes, gestures, and enunciates his words exactly like Tony Soprano.  In one scene, he tells Cogan “I don’t take orders from you!!!” and I’m sitting there thinking, “Of course you don’t! You’re Tony Soprano!!”.  For me, his character became a distraction, as I thought of Gandolfini in much better scenes while playing his signature role.  Here, he plays a drunk, oversexed, and over the hill hit man who is reduced to a couple long and drawn out conversations with Cogan about the many women he has recently slept with.  Beyond that, he doesn’t really figure into the film’s plot.

     The majority of “Killing Them Softly” is built around many long and drawn out conversations between characters.  Some of these conversations are entertaining, but some are run of the mill mob speak you’ve heard many times before.  It also seems obsessed with making sure we know it takes place over the course of the 2008 Presidential election since characters are constantly in the presence of television sets playing speeches by Bush, McCain, and Obama.  It’s never really explained what the intention of this is, though Cogan has a clever line at the end of the film referencing something Obama had just said in a speech.  In between you have small bursts of action that Dominik chooses to present in super slow motion where you see a bullet leave a gun barrel and travel through windows until it reaches its intended target.  Sometimes this is effective when used sparingly, but Dominik essentially uses it in all of the key scenes where he depicts car crashes, murders, and Brad Pitt’s really cool walk and free flowing hair.  Cut out some of the overlong conversational pieces while speeding up the action and you might have enough footage for a half hour television show and that’s about it.  This is not to say the film is a complete waste, it’s just painfully average and well below the standards you would expect when you see Brad Pitt’s name above the title. GRADE: C-