As I watched Brad Pitt’s latest movie, Killing Them Softly from director Andrew Dominik, I sat in a virtually empty theater with a few friends and other patrons. The movie is a slow, meditative and strangely beautiful examination of bad people, and I could sense it testing the audience’s patience.
I kept hearing the relentless “tap, tap, tap” of restless leg syndrome coming from somebody behind us. I heard a lot—a lot—of deep sighing from the few who were there, along with the rustling of their clothes as they fidgeted in their seats.
I guess I’m trying to say Killing Them Softly is a film that requires great patience. This movie takes its time, features more than a few wordy monologues, and lots of poetic slow-motion shots.
Pitt plays Jackie, a smooth, shady type called upon to clean up a situation gone bad with an organized crime card game. Set about four years ago, the country is in recession, and that recession has spread to crime. So when the card game, a big money generator, goes down, something has got to be done.
The big card game is off due to a series of robberies at the games, some of them inside jobs, some of them not. So, some folks are going to die, and it’s Jackie’s job to make sure that goes off without a hitch.
This all results in an interesting look inside what makes a crime syndicate tick, whether it’s accurate or not. I enjoyed seeing Pitt’s Jackie discussing the mechanizations of his killing plans with a buttoned-up type, played by Richard Jenkins, while parked in a swank car.
I also liked seeing a hired hitman (James Gandolfini) drinking heavily and bitching about his wife before he’s supposed to pull off an important job. Jackie, essentially his boss, acts like an antsy shift supervisor who knows his cash drawer is going to come up short when the bell tolls because his employee is hitting the bottle.
Dominik has made a movie like this one before, and it even starred Pitt as another criminal type. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford had a similar meditative vibe about it. Audiences were split over how beautiful that film was, and its slow pacing. Killing Them Softly is producing a reaction that echoes the previous film.
In a way, Jackie represents the sort of criminal Jesse James was in his day, but hampered by modern problems regarding money and technology. Dominik uses speeches by Obama and other political types as a background noise, constantly reminding the likes of Jackie that the landscape is changing. When the average Joe has trouble making a buck, it results in less money for stealing and paying hitmen.
Some folks have a pretty bad time in this movie. Ray Liotta endures what has to be one of cinema’s all time worst beatings, full of blood, vomit and broken bones. I’ve read some comments about how Dominik romanticizes or glorifies violence with some of his more poetic killing sequences. Hey, the scene involving Liotta getting his clock cleaned more than balances things out. It’s brutal.
Pitt is just a freaking movie star of the highest order. Every moment he spends on screen in this movie just amplifies that point. Jackie is a despicable character, and while Pitt doesn’t necessarily make him all that likeable, he does make him sinisterly funny and always engaging.
I really liked the use of Gandolfini in this movie. I pictured his Tony Soprano all washed up, relegated to taking killing assignments and drinking himself to oblivion. No, he’s not Tony in this movie, but I’m sure the connection wasn’t lost on him or Dominik.
Critics like Killing Them Softly, while audiences are giving it an “F,” according to Entertainment Weekly’s standard moviegoer polling. I guess that qualifies Dominik as a “critical darling” who’s going to have a hard time procuring big budgets for movie ideas in the future.