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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 03.25.13] thriller crime



Andrew Dominik isn't the kind of director that pumps out movies every few years. There was a long delay between the release of his debut Chopper and his sophomore effort The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It didn't take quite as long for Dominik to produce a third feature but the result has been well worth the wait.

Killing Them Softly is a slow burn crime drama, sort of what I would expect if Terrence Malick made Goodfellas. That is to say that it's not as fast paced as Scorsese's movie but it's far less interested with the scenery than Malick tends to be though still with a keen eye to breathtaking and sometimes shocking scenery.


Johnny (Vincent Curatola) has a plan. A good plan. He's going to knock off a card game. Well, he's not going to do the job himself but he's got a plan and he's going to mastermind the entire thing and get a couple of lackeys to actually do the work. Lackey number one is Frankie (Scoot McNairy). He's the one that meets with Johnny and gets all the details. It's also up to him to find his partner and against Johnny's warning, Frankie brings on Russell, a drug addicted Aussie whose current scam is stealing pure breads and selling them in Florida.

The job goes off without a hitch and the trio pocket themselves a nice bit of cash but they're not off scot free. The bosses don't want this sort of thing to be a regular occurrence so they bring in the clean-up crew. Jackie (Brad Pitt) is smart and meticulous and there's no doubt that he's going get the job done and I'm not just talking about taking down the guy Johnny has framed for the fall.

On the surface, Killing Them Softly plays out like a popular crime drama, not shying away from the violence when called for and heck, it even incorporates a few moments of humour, but what sets it apart is that it's far less interested in the crime and what it means for the bosses and far more interested in the little guys that turn the wheel. We never get to see the bosses, their orders are always relayed down the line by Richard Jenkins' character whose name we never learn. Dominik also infuses quite a bit of political commentary into the story which, for those that like their thrillers with a bit of subtext, provides quite a bit of fodder for discussion.

From the opening scene Dominik's movie plays out like a microcosm of America: the bosses are the government, Jenkin's character subs in for the talking heads who relay information, Jackie represents the officials on the ground who make sure the entire thing is running smoothly and everyone else the cogs in the wheel. When looked at this way, Dominik makes some poignant and telling observations about the way the country is run: with the head disconnected from the body and everyone simply trying to stay afloat by any means necessary. This is oversimplifying things a bit, there's no mention here of James Gandolfini's Mickey, a character who seems to have given up on everything for one last hurrah, but it's an interesting starting point for discussion about a movie which is far more interesting than the simple story which appears on the surface.

That's a lot of reading between the lines but Dominik makes it quite clear and easy to pull back the layers and attempt to figure out what else he's getting at but at the end of the day, Killing Them Softly is still a gritty, violent and hugely entertaining story of a clean-up guy whose apparently easy job turns out to be a little more complicated than initially anticipated.

Killing Them Softly is available on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, March 26th.

Blu-ray Extras: A scant few extras on this release; a few deleted scenes and a making of featurette.

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