I’ve managed to catch a few films at the cinema in the last few weeks and I wanted to get them off my plate before a big steaming turkey landed on said plate… or something to that effect. Possibly something less ewwy. However, since WordPress just played a naughty pre-Christmas trick on me, gobbling up what I’d written for the second and third item, here’s a shorter variety pack, featuring the silliest picture of Brad Pitt in a long, long time.
Killing Them Softly
For anyone who’s forgotten one of the zillion times I’ve mentioned it, Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford may just be my favourite film of the last ten years. I was accordingly excited when I heard that its director and star were getting back together for a darkly comic gangster flick, and the trailer looked intriguing – as well as pushing several of my movie- and TV-loving buttons. James “Tony Soprano” Gandolfini? Richard “Late Nate” Jenkins? Henry Motherfucking Hill himself, Ray Liotta? Count me in!
Talk about killing a film, not softly, but with unrealistic expectations. I loved The Assassination… for its sure-handed direction and for Pitt’s performance (although it’s Casey Affleck and Sam Rockwell who were the biggest revelations), but also for its elegiac tone, its hauntingly beautiful images, the writing largely taken from the original novel. Killing Them Softly may have been directed by the same man and shares the star of Dominik’s earlier film, but it is entirely different in tone and setting. It’s grimy, and it rarely evokes any emotions for its characters other than sarcastic pity. They’re a largely pathetic gang of losers, and Pitt’s pragmatic blue-collar hitman is the best of a sorry bunch. Which is exactly what the script requires and what Dominik goes for, and he’s very effective at this – but I wasn’t exactly engaged by all of this. Several Sopranos alumni turning up didn’t exactly help, replacing one set of expectations (something that would pull me in as much, and in similar ways, as The Assassination… had) with another (will this ever crawl out of the shadows of The Sopranos?).
Is Killing Them Softly a good film? I didn’t mind watching it, even while my expectations deflated like a sad seaside toy punctured by an urchin. Does it do anything special or new? Not particularly. There’s a sustained political subtext, a commentary on today’s America that, at least in my opinion, doesn’t work and comes across as fairly facile. There is a beautifully tense robbery scene, and the mis-en-scène is generally interesting – but damned if I know what, if anything, Killing Them Softly adds up to. Perhaps that’s the jaded, cynical point.
And that’s it for now. Tune in soon for my thoughts on Argo and Skyfall – and in the meantime, happy holidays, one and all!