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Construx Conspirators: @shanewastestime Killing Them Softly Review

9:41:00 AMPaul

93. Killing Them Softly

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This had a lot of buzz going for it, and, given that writer/director Andrew Dominik was responsible for my favorite movie of 2007 (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), I certainly had high hopes.

Alas, Killing Them Softly is a hefty letdown. The deliberate and slow pace that worked so well in Jesse James is deadly here. Characters are given generous time for soliloquies that stop the action dead in its tracks and force us to endure them to get back to the story. James Gandolfini’s scenes in particular are more like exercises in playwriting than a part of a coherent movie. And I should make it clear that I often enjoy self-consciously lengthy bits of dialogue. For instance, the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds where Nazi Christoph Waltz has a sit-down chat with a farmer hiding Jews in his basement is agonizingly slow, but it’s also brilliant because it generates so much tension. I didn’t get that from this movie. We’re being made to wait because the filmmaker is dicking around with us.

Another odd bit is its occasional bursts of mega-stylized violence. I’m an avowed lover of cool-looking for cool-looking’s sake, but the scenes of slo-mo bullets leaving a gun and shattering glass that explodes like diamonds is crazily out of place in this otherwise gritty story. It’s like a special effects showreel placed in the middle of a regular old mob film. And I can’t forget to mention the jarring heavy-handed subtext of “Wall Street and the government are the real crooks.” Seriously, everybody in the film is watching Bush on CNN or listening to Obama on NPR all the time. It becomes sort of a joke, though I suspect it’s unintentional.

It’s not a total dud, though. The scene where two dopey small-time thugs hold up a high-stakes poker game of New Orleans’ most dangerous gangsters is practically an instant classic of suspense. And, while everyone in the film is an unlikeable scumbag, the performances are decent all around. It’s not the actors’ fault that we hardly care who lives or dies. Plus, it has Richard Jenkins playing a character not too far removed from his Cabin in the Woods guy (the bland, everyday face of sinister forces), and I can’t ever get enough Richard Jenkins! 

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