Killing Them Softly Review

Desperation can make men do strange things.

As Killing Them Softly amply proves.

Frankie is a lowlife and low on his luck.

Just out of prison for a sure thing that turned out to be far less than certain, Frankie is finding life as an ex con is much harder than simply being a con.

No-one will give him a second chance, so he decides to give his criminal ways and another of those sure things a whirl instead.

With no other real choices in life, what difference does it make anyway?

So Frankie digs up an old friend of his who’s similarly desperate and they decide to do one last job together.

But they know the people they’re stealing from won’t take too kindly to theft, and pretty soon vengeance is being wrought upon everyone involved in their ill thought out heist.

Killing Them Softly is one of those modern tales of mafia life that ticks a lot of boxes for boys looking for a new fix to take the edge off this post Sopranos age we live in.

Based on a George V Higgins novel from the seventies, Killing Them Softly feels like an episode of The Sopranos with a bigger budget and some more famous faces.

So we have Brad Pitt as professional hitman Jackie Cogan, Ray Liotta as a stooge for the mob’s high stakes card games and Richard Jenkins as said mafia’s bean counter and human carrier pigeon.

Then you have the Soprano connection, with James Gandolfini playing another gun for hire and a handful of other recognisable faces from the tv sensation filling in the blanks or acting as mafia muscle.

There’s stylised hits, graphic violence and some supposed commentary on the death of the american dream, ie capitalism, in modern america.

Yet for all its slick production values, and even slicker hair from Mr Angelina Jolie, something’s missing from Killing Them Softly.

And I’ve got to say that’s heart.

What made The Sopranos so engrossing was its slow burning study of the human face and frailties of gangsters.
Even tough, cold blooded killers have families and people they care about.

It’s a lot harder to pull off grittily realistic characters in a two hour window, though this can be done; it’s just Killing Them Softly misses this target.

So instead of slow motion deaths being emotive or dramatic, they just feel like something that’s been scripted to satisfy a focused grouped demand.

Throughout the film there are cut-aways to tv broadcasts in the run up to Barack Obama’s successful election in 2008, and you know this build up is leading somewhere.

Put when that payoff is delivered in the final scene, I felt cheated by the lack of substance and coldly calculated nature of this plot device.

It really doesn’t reveal anything as insightful as the people behind this would like to believe.

Killing Them Softly isn’t a bad film; it’s well acted, brilliantly made and there’s a killer soundtrack too.

But The Sopranos raised the bar before smashing it over the head of the gangster genre, so fare like this feel empty by comparison.

A little desperate even.

Jonathan Campbell

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September 2012
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