Killing Them Softly (USA 2012) – Welcome to Hard Times
Based on the novel COGAN’S TRADE by George V. Higgins set in 1974 Boston, the producers, in their wisdom, chose to update the action to take place in 2008 New Orleans. A decision equally as wise as adapting the novel to the screen in the first place.
Boston vs. New Orleans was probably influenced more by the availability of Louisiana State tax credits for help in funding the movie’s $18 million budget than any other consideration, I should imagine, as the story could have been set in any grimy, desolate township – at night, mostly in the rain – anywhere in the country: Detroit, say, or Baltimore. In no sequence is New Orleans at all recognizable. As for moving it up in time, this was obviously done to allow televised speeches and radio broadcasts by Barack Obama, John McCain and George W. to pervade the background – presumably to emphasize the sad state of the US economy and warn of a worsening recession. Everybody’s going through tough times, apparently, even organized crime.
The plot begins when a high-stakes poker game run for the Mob by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), is rudely interrupted by two masked robbers, who take off with a large chunk of the mob’s change. It looks like an inside job – who else would be dumb enough to rob the mob?
Small-time crooks Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) turn out to be responsible for the heist, and retribution is swift in coming. Senior mob boss (James Gandolfini) soon arrives to take matters in hand. He orders the execution of the two thieves to be performed by slick hit man Jackie (Brad Pitt), who explains that his specialty is to “kill softly” – for no apparent reason other than to justify the classic number featured in the soundtrack. And so begins a tedious succession of sadistic beatings and brutal killings – nothing “soft” about them – as the mob administers its own kind of justice.
Screenwriter/director Andrew Dominik, who coaxed a great performance from Brad Pitt in his 2007 film THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, has assembled a talented cast of male bad-asses – not one of whom is likeable – in a dreary landscape, who give as good as they get. The script doesn’t give anyone much opportunity to shine. Worthy of special mention here is James Gandolfini, who, presumably out of desperation, falls back on his classic Tony Soprano persona (complete with the line, “So, whatcha gonna do?”). The storyline is dull, the visuals bleak, the violence gratuitous and, all in all, the movie has precious little to commend it.
KILLING THEM SOFTLY (USA 2012); Running time: 97 mins; Distributors: US: Inferno Distribution/ Germany: WildBunch; Director/Writer: Andrew Dominik; Based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by George V. Higgins; Cast: Bard Pitt, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkens, Ben Mendelsohn, Sam Shepard; Release dates: US 30th Nov/Germany 29th November; Rated R (for violence, sexual references, pervasive language, and drug use).