Softly‘s Finally Here

Andrew Dominik‘s Killing Them Softly is opening Friday (11.30) with an 87% Rotten Tomatoes rating. All Boston-area crime flicks based on George V. Higgins source material are worth the price, but this one is noteworthy for a rightwing political theme that says Obama’s hope-and-change stump speech of the ’08 campaign was bullshit. Here’s my 5.22.12 Cannes Film Festival review:

“Surprisingly, Andrew Dominik‘s Killing Them Softly isn’t your father’s tough-talkin’ George V. Higgins gritty crime pic. Well, it is but it persistently and rather curiously pushes concurrent political commentary about the ’08 financial collapse, Obama, hope, cynicism, ruthlessness and American greed.

Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn wrote that Softly, like Dominik’s five-year-old The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, is a “tone poem that uses narrative to prop up various attitudes and moods,” but this time with a greater emphasis on the polemic. Well put.

“The plot is basically about Brad Pitt‘s Jackie Cogan, a hard-as-nails hitman, being hired to rub out a few guys involved in the robbing of a Boston poker game, as well as an unlucky rackets guy (Ray Liotta) who didn’t really do anything but tough shit — he’s on the list regardless. And yet the first 25% to 30% of the film is Pitt-less, focusing on the perps and their grubby, slip-shod realm.

“Cogan, a down-to-business, cut-the-shit assassin, is about doing the job, period. Rationality, efficiency, no personal issues or baggage — an exemplar, in a sense, of ‘clean living,’ which is what Dominik, during the just-finished press conference and somewhat flippantly, said the film is partly espousing.

“Above all Cogan is no believer in community and equality and Barack Obama’s high-falutin’ talk about sharing and ‘we’re all in this together.’

Killing Them Softly, then, is a fairly novel thing — an ‘Obama’s rhetoric is full of shit’ crime movie. Okay, not Obama’s per se, but his inspirational come-together theme of the ’08 campaign (a clip from his acceptance speech in Chicago is used at the beginning and end) or the generic uplift rhetoric of ‘America the beautiful.’ Pull the wool off, take the needle out, wake up to what America is.

“So this isn’t The Friends of Eddie Coyle but a Metaphor Movie. The political newscast and Obama-speech clips are interwoven a bit more persistently than is necessary. But the ending of Killing Me Softly, no question, hits it right slam on the head. I chuckled. I left the theatre with a grin.

“Most of Softly, like any good crime pic, is about character, dialogue, minutae, this and that manner of slimeball scumbag, rain, sweat, smack, bottles of beer, guns and old cars (i.e., ratty old buckets, classic muscle cars, ’80s gas guzzlers). Nobody in Killing Me Softly ever heard of a Prius.

“Pitt delivers a solid, snarly performance as the bearded, leather-jacketed Cogan. But running a close second is Scoot McNairy as a scuzzy thief who’s out of his depth. He does more than just scuzz around and suck in cigarette smoke. He exudes fear and anguish along the usual cocky irreverence required of any bottom-tier criminal. He should and will be seen again, and often.

“Other stand-out performances come from Richard Jenkins, Vincent Curatola and the Australian Ben Mendelsohn, acting with his native accent, as the sweatiest and gunkiest no-account junkie west of the Pecos. James Gandolfini doesn’t quite register as a gone-to-seed hitman…sorry.

“Given a choice between an unfettered, down-to-basics George V. Higgins crime drama and what Softly‘s double-track variation is, I’m mostly pleased with the latter. We all know the about the lure of rugged, tangy, straight-punch crime films, which much of Softly is. We’ve been there many, many times. So why not a crime film that goes for something else on top of the usual-usual? Ladies and gents, it’s okay with me.”

  • JoeBomowski

    CANNOT wait for this, but, man, is this movie sending out some mixed messages apparently…. Wells’ takeaway seems to be this cynical, disillusioned nihilism that takes shots at the hope/change promise of Obama…. I’ve read other takeaways that talk about it like it’s full-on anticapitalist, with the director I think even saying it’s meant as a wholesale indictment of the American way…

    I couldn’t care less, but since the majority of people adhere to their personal politics more than they do to their love of cinema, it’ll be divisive…. I haven’t seen it but it sounds WIRE-esque in its “fuck everything” disenchantment, but if it’s really borderline Commie in its dissection of American greed, it’s gonna set off all the bloodthirsty rightie types looking for a hard action movie (which apparently it’s not), and if it’s gray and ugly and sort of disillusioned with Obama, then the dependably leftie-above-everything film geeks won’t like it much either…. This confusion all seems to have extended to the release and marketing, like Weinstein didn’t get what they were expecting…. I mean, how else do you bungle a BRAD PITT GANGSTER MOVIE that WB or even Uni would market slick as shit and open it to at least 20.

    I’m pulling for it, but I doubt it’ll even do LAWLESS or SAVAGES numbers as 2012 sausage fests go.

  • BlindMice

    Meandering and lost, if only it was as Wells describes it.

  • Robert Cashill

    The movie says everything is bullshit: Obama, McCain, women, values of any kind. It’s so intensely styled and committed you can’t dismiss it, but it’s like staring into an open sewer for 100 minutes.

  • lbeale

    Well, I’ve written two pieces about this film, and interviewed Dominik twice, and as far as he’s concerned, the film is not anti-Obama, it’s about a crisis of confidence in capitalist institutions, from the micro and macro level. The Mob is concerned that the robberies of their card games will cause players to lose confidence in the safety of those games, so they hire Cogan to clean up the mess. Dominik sets this all in 2008, when there was a crisis in the American economy, and the TARP bailout was devised. So he’s just contrasting two economic institutions.
    And incidentally, I think the film is terrific.

  • BlindMice

    As Jeff I did smirk and grin and chuckle after the last line that Brad Pitt delivers, but that does not make a film.

    Dominik needed to do something more than intersperse Bush and Obama speeches between a boring caper.

  • DiscoNap

    Shit, Johnny Sack is in this too?

  • Rashad

    I’m in it for the crime gangster shit. Couldn’t give a fuck about the subtextual politics of it all.

  • BlindMice

    Yea, Rashad is going to be disappointed.

    Unless he likes “crime gangster shit” mostly set in cars chatting about this or that.

  • Rashad

    As long as they’re talking about crime shit, I’m down. I love Collateral, and it’s mostly just Cruise and Foxx talking about life in a cab.

  • Nick XX

    Saw it at a screening on Monday. The audience hated it. So did the friend I saw it with. I fucking loved it, and it’s grown in my estimation since. Much of what Jeff says above is true, but the movie is also masterful from a craft perspective. It does a bunch of shit you’ve seen before, but it truly does it in ways you’ve never seen before. The heroin scene, for example (you’ll know what I’m talking about.) And the beating of Ray Liotta, which is a masterpiece of violence.

  • HarryWarden

    I’ve heard it being compared to something Tarantino would do. Is that accurate?

  • BlindMice

    No, it lacks Tarantino’s insular world.

    But, it tries to make up for it by the political speech.

    I like to see it as the black market Margin Call.

    As, I think over it more it does work, but the vast majority will not get it.,

  • JoeBomowski

    How’s everybody, EVERYBODY, here always all seeing shit early? The movie opens tomorrow… Unless you’re some paid critic, how did you see it already? I can’t get into early screenings and I’m like a MOVIE AUTHORITY…. How do dudes named “bobbyperu” or “BlindMice” or “slapdick69” and “ArcherFan84” get into EARLY SCREENINGS?


    These studios need to put me on their LISTS if you guys are ALL seeing shit in cushy screening rooms instead of sitting elbow-to-elbow at the Arclight between restless-leg cases.

  • berg

    Joe B … contact the PR firms that handle screenings – they will put you on the list

  • trimmer

    “How’s everybody, EVERYBODY, here always all seeing shit early? The movie opens tomorrow… Unless you’re some paid critic, how did you see it already?”

    Awards screenings.

  • JoeBomowski

    I’m not in any guild. I did a SAG-waiver movie a couple years ago and I believe their paperwork said “You gotta be fucking kidding me.”

  • Rashad

    I got into an early screening of True Grit, with one of those gofobo passes, but jesus christ was it a waste of time. I waited for a long time on line, then got told it was filled, but the guy gave a bunch of us “guaranteed” passes to the next night’s screening. I got in right away but I’d rather just wait for the actual releases. There’s always this weird feeling about advanced screenings.

  • Eloi Wrath

    Yeah, I’ve seen precisely four advanced screenings in my entire life. One college screening of The Girl Next Door to drum up advanced buzz online. One of Elizabethtown for the same reason. A MOMA-hosted Judd Apatow Q&A thing for Funny People, and then a GoFobo screening of Unstoppable which featured all of Jeff’s most hated audience members bringing their screaming babies into it.

    I also have no idea how the HE rank and file seem to get into these advanced screenings on a routine basis.

  • Krillian

    Last early one I got into was Moneyball. That’s also where I first saw the five-minute trailer for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (I guess the other two books won’t get made, eh?)

  • Eloi Wrath

    Krillian: They probably will, but not with Fincher and with a budget about a third of the first one.

  • BlindMice

    Oh, I don’t know Lex, maybe apply yourself a little and take the opportunities offered to you like when Jeff was willing to set you up with your own outlet for your writing…