Running Time: 97 minutes
Reviewer: David Gillespie – Official HCF Artist
Having had the very impressive Killer Joe hit the big screen earlier in 2012, and big things expected from Andrew Dominik’s hitman tale, what a disappointment it was that Killing Them Softly just never gets started. Following the stereotypical formula of amateur criminals carrying out their plan of the perfect heist and having an ‘angel of death’ hitman being cast upon them, has in most occasions worked for features such as Old Country for Old Men and the aforementioned William Friedkin thriller, but this yarn strays well off the road. By the time it finds its way back and Brad Pitt projects the greatest fistful of lines this year, it is too little too late.
Scoot McNairy plays Frankie, a down on his luck criminal, who spies an opportunity to make big money by robbing a group of hoods’ regular gambling session. Along with his stoned and brainless accomplice, Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) they carry out the heist with the intention of diverting the blame on shifty wise guy, Markie (Ray Liotta) who has mouthed off to acting out a similar heist in days gone by. Everything goes to plan but what the two thieves fail to realise is that powerful and dangerous men want their money back and out of principle, they will make sure that someone organises and executes the return of this money and eliminates anyone who was involved. Enter the organiser (Richard Jenkins) and a professional killer called Jackie (Brad Pitt). Jackie is instructed to carry out the killing of Markie, the two thieves and their boss, Johnny (Vincent Curatola). Because the hitman does not like killing anyone that he knows, he flies an experienced killer called Mickey (James Gandolfini) in to help. When he realises that Mickey is going through a mental breakdown due to domestic issues and is incapable of contributing, it is up to Jackie to execute each of the hits.
Killing Them Softly is a frustrating thriller. It is extremely stylish, gritty and has a clever setup and concept. The parallels between the general public having been forced to bail out the banks for economic confidence yet being asked to financially tighten their belts and Markie being assassinated for a crime he didn’t commit to set an example with irate hitmen grumbling on their reduced fee is very sharp. For a while it all goes to plan.
Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn open the story and work brilliantly together. The heist is terrifically tense and well-staged whilst their banter between each other is priceless. The problem arrives with the arrival of James Gandolfini’s character. The movie comes to a grounding halt as he moans for an eternity about how his wife has cheated on him and describes how he copulates with countless prostitutes in countless cheap motels. Brad Pitt goes through the motions as the confident and chatty killer that is pained by the lack of professionalism of his fellow work colleagues. His weakness is that he cannot stomach the personal impact of victims pleading for their life. Therefore he favours picking them off from a distance or ‘killing them softly’.
The violent scenes, when they come, are stylish, shocking and gory. We get very brief glimpses in the movie as to why Frankie is the man that the bad guys turn to when they don’t want to get their hands dirty themselves.
The final scene is spot on as Frankie loses his temper with his employer regards the reduced sum that is offered to him when he effectively delivers the goods. The movie ends with a sucker punch line that people will remember and quote for years to come. Killing the Softly promises so much in the opening third and then loses the audience for most of the second act. I was left wondering how better this movie could have been if it had kept to the original plot rather stray off in a mundane and lacklustre tangent.