Killing Them Softly

Words by John Hewitt.

Recommendations should always be taken with a pinch of salt. I learnt this valuable lesson the hard way this week. A friend came up to me and recommended Killing Them Softly, a crime thriller that garnered much acclaim at the Cannes film festival and was a cross between “the smart humour of Burn After Reading and the gangland tension of Goodfellas” (their exact words). I was sold, pretty much bounded down to my local cinema and burrowed into my chair to face the on rush of inevitable brilliance. Things did not…go as planned.

Killing Them Softly begins when Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) decide to rob a high stakes poker game ran by the local mafia, safe in the knowledge that their crime will be blamed on the games organiser, Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), who admitting to setting up a robbery on a previous game. What they didn’t count on was the mob calling in Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), a professional mob enforcer who likes to hit his targets when they least expect it, to investigate the robbery and to clean up the affair.

As you have probably guessed from how small the synopsis is, not a lot happens in this film. In fact, it’s really quite bare, much to its detriment. The characters are not delved into enough for us to feel any investment in their exploits. Jackie and Russell don’t come across as likeable enough for the audience to care whether they escape, while Jackie isn’t cool enough for us to want to see him deal out justice. And because the audience don’t feel invested in what happens to them, there’s hardly any tension to experience. There isn’t even any action to distract us or get our adrenaline pumping. What there actually is, is a lot of talking. Countless scenes of people talking to each other in various combinations, in various locations and often completely failing to say anything relevant to the plot. This soon become tiresome and makes the film a real drag to sit through.

Some elements do shine through, despite all this. There are some clever shots where the positioning of the camera creates an interesting perspective. The political backdrop of the film, with the political candidates of 2008 discussing the financial crisis in the background is nicely used to underpin the actions in the film. And there are some scenes that really do raise a chuckle, particularly surrounding the character of Russell. But these elements are only a few bits of flesh on a very bare skeleton, simply not enough to make a truly enjoyable film.

Severely disappointing, Killing Them Softly never really seemed to get off the ground. With little to nothing to hold the audience’s attention, it feels like a laborious wait for something to happen to liven things up when the ending just sort of happens all of a sudden. If you really must go see it, go ahead. But if you’re still unsure, give it some real consideration before you part with your money.

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Title: Killing Them Softly
Director: Andrew Dominick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn
Running Time: 100 mins
Certificate: 18

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