"Killing Them Softly"

(R) ★★★

Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly has a lot going for it; a hot director, a famous actor, an appearance at Cannes, love it/hate it festival buzz and a killer cast. So exactly what happened for it to hit a major bump? Before going into a monday matinee of the film, I had yet to encounter a person that liked the film and critical buzz has been tame to say the least. Suprising given the fact that Dominik's highly underrated The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford was a mesmerizing journey into an American killer's mind. Know what I say? Don't listen to the haters. Sure Killing Them Softly is an imperfect American dream through hell, however if you give it a chance it might just lure you into its sadistic criminal world. With nary a light in sight within its frames the film is heavy on dialogue and gruesome violence. You can tell Dominik's trying to find a groove in the film, he struggles at that, there's very much a European cinema influence in here but there are also shades of 90's Tarantino. It's this confusion in style that limits the potential of the film - yet some of the scenes Dominik creates stick with you.

A heist is done on a poker game, Markie (Ray Liotta) is manager and works under gangsters. He already pulled a heist once before and got away with it but this time around -even with him not involved- he gets eyed upon by his bosses. Not good but exactly what the guys that pulled it off wanted - that is until one of them fucks it up and puts his crew in a lot of heat. That is where Brad Pitt's Jackie comes into the picture, a hit man that is given the task of chasing these heist pullers and killing them (softly as he says). He brings in Mickey - the never better James Gandolfini- a slimy hitman that has turned into a drunk. The action scenes are tensely delivered, with Dominik's handheld camera bringing realism to the surroundings. The flaws come in some of the dialogue driven scenes that get stretched out a bit too long, Dominik is aiming for Tarantino-like slyness but only ends up doing it half well. No worries, his movie pulls you in with its dark humor and even darker violence. He means to tell us that the America these gangsters live in is the same one that inhabits our lives.

The film takes place in 2008 when America's economy was down and out. Dominik -With a soundtrack that includes speeches by then senator Obama and President Bush- hammers on his message that our nation is driven by nothing more than corporate greed. Fair enough and not far from the truth but I could have done without some of these insinuations and more story-based stuff. The actors do deliver, Pitt is a marvel and you believe in his acting (when haven't we) and Gandolfini stretches himself out here and does the best work he's done since the last season of The Sopranos. This isn't a movie that cuddles to its audience or answers all the questions when the credits roll, this is a film that is demanding and can frustrate primitive minded people. That makes it all the better for us. Killing Them Softly is rough around the edges but is a unique piece of work. It takes chances that not many movies these days would, how good is that?