KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012)
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Killing Them Softly takes place in a dystopian world where America is enslaved by its own debt. People live like vultures in poverty, killing and stealing just to get by in an economy that chews them up and spits them out, leaving them with no other options except self-destruction.
Oh. Wait. This isn't science fiction. This is a raw and bloody reminder of America after the Bush years, when the economy fell on its face thanks to a couple shaky-fingered puppeteers and the little guy was the one chosen to pick up the soap. I know you thought you were going to the movies to see Brad Pitt be a fucking badass and kill some bitches, but you were wrong. This movie is a blood-fest, no doubt about it, but it's a political commentary, first and foremost. And don't worry, Republicans, Obama gets shit for it too.
Honestly, it's hard for me to give this movie a proper response. As an action movie, it falls a little short. The script has holes. There are long stretches of monologue. The third act leaves a little to be desired. As a cynical as fuck commentary on the state of the world, it succeeds. In short, this is the kind of thing that might've made a better play than it does a movie (all the satire and none of the explosions), if it wasn't for the brilliant editing and shocking imagery.
Let's start with the good stuff. The first thirty minutes or so are flawless. The dialogue is great, the characters are sharp and well defined. We've got Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), two less-than-professional gangsters who will do just about any hairy job for a little money. They get hired to rob a regular high-stakes card game, run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). So you know how Ray Liotta always plays the unflinching, can-kill-you-with-my-pinky badass? Well. Ray Liotta takes a turn for the worst as a sniveling push-over who gets the crap beaten out of him (by none other than Racetrack from Newsies. Think about it. Guess he bet on the wrong horse.). Maybe I'm being a little harsh on Trattman--he does, after all, hold up well under pressure and sticks to his story no matter how hard you punch him. Still, it's...well. Possibly one of the most gruesome beatings I've seen a guy take on the big screen. It's the kind of visceral, sickening violence that makes you want to send Ray Liotta a couple Get Well Soon balloons and a script for a Christmas-themed family comedy.
On the topic of awesome characters, I have to mention Mickey, the emo hitman, played by James Gandolfini. Mickey has issues. He drinks, he fucks whores, and he spends a lot of time sopping up his tears while waxing poetic about his wife. Really, Gandolfini does an excellent job as a washed out hitman who's so miserable he can hardly get up the motivation to get out of his bathrobe. He's a pathetic character, but a well written pathetic character.
Then there's our main man, Jackie (Brad Pitt). He's a cold, hard negotiator who knows how to talk his way out of most any situation. He's generally a "good guy," except for the whole killing thing. Really, he's a character I should be able to get behind. Except for the fact that the movie doesn't seem to do him justice. He's badass character, but he spends most of the film talking Mickey off the ledge. We don't get a lot of time seeing him in action. And when we do seem him beat the shit out of some people, well, sure, it's cool, but somehow it just doesn't feel like enough to live up to this awesome reputation he's built up for himself. Which maybe has something to do with the fact that his character never really breaks a sweat. He gets mildly irritated from time to time, but he never really faces any major obstacles. Because he doesn't have a "low point," it's hard to feel really satisfied when he pulls his badass moves and closes the job.
Brad Pitt's third-act issue isn't an isolated incident. Unfortunately, too many of the excellent characters (including Mickey the emo hitman) fail to get a decent wrap-up. Instead, they get a one-line sentence of exposition explaining how they did or didn't get their comeuppance, and leave it at that. Especially Dillon. Don't get me started on Dillon. Despite the fact that he's apparently a major antagonistic character, we never really see him, we never hear him. He just floats around like the Black Smoke Monster or something. And then when we finally hear about how he gets his, it comes without rhyme or reason. I take it back, the Black Smoke Monster had more personality than this guy.
Stylistically, this movie holds up well. They play with sharp cuts and purposefully jarring editing. Another favorite moment of mine is when Russell the Aussie gets high and keeps floating in and out of consciousness. It's an effective style, even if they draw it out a little too long, and got a good chuckle from me.
All in all, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this movie. The characters were really unique and enjoyable to watch. The acting was excellent (I hope to see Scoot McNairy a heck of a lot more after this). The monologues were great. The political commentary was on point, even if it did smother the plot from time to time. At the end of the day, it's a movie that tries pretty hard to blend two different genres and doesn't entirely pull it off. However, it's still an enjoyable movie with a lot of excellent violence and memorable characters. And Ray Liotta. Gets the shit beat out of him. I rest my case.