A crime film starring Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, and Ray Liotta. This is going to be good, I thought.
I love crime films and fiction, after all: The Godfather trilogy, The Sopranos, the novels of Michael Connelly.
But I didn’t like this “neo-noir” movie. Not at all, in fact.
I don’t mind a bit of “noir”. But noir, in its quest to be endlessly and relentlessly dark, can sometimes lapse into self-parody.
That’s what Killing Them Softly is. Despite the all-star lineup, this movie is hampered by banal dialogue, bad artistic sensibilities, and an aimless storyline.
Let’s start with the dialogue. I don’t mind a few F-bombs. The Sopranos was full of them. But there were entire strings of dialogue in Killing Them Softly in which “fuck” was the most frequent word. That gets boring after awhile—and it usually means lazy scriptwriting.
Likewise, I’m not politically correct. (Read some of my other blog posts.) I’m not a “sensitive guy” or a “male feminist”. I attended high school and played boys’ sports in the politically incorrect 1980s. I’ve heard my share of locker room talk.
I don’t, however, need a film scene in which two male characters ramble on forever about women’s genitalia. There was more than one scene like that in Killing Them Softly.
The setting is dreary. I mean dreary. This is a movie shot in a world where the sun never shines. (I’m sure that was intentional, part of the self-consciously overdone “noir” effect.)
But there’s little plot to fit inside the grim scenery. The plot just goes from one violent and/or depressing scene to the next. There are no discernible stakes. It’s all nonstop, chaotic bloodshed and depravity that don’t really go anywhere. What’s the point?
There is not a single likable character. This means that there is no one to root for.
A movie about horrible people, and only horrible people. Who cares if they all die? I certainly didn’t. (That might make the movie end sooner, I thought.)
Dark themes and storylines (horror, crime, war, etc.) only work if there is an element of redemption. There has to be good struggling against the evil. There has to be a glimmer of hope. There has to be at least one character that the audience can become invested in.
Yesterday I wrote a review of the rather violent horror film, Wrong Turn. Wrong Turn, on one level, is every bit as violent as Killing Them Softly. But it’s also very different.
Wrong Turn has at least two protagonists—a college student and her father—whom the viewer is inclined to care about. Wrong Turn has moments of extreme depravity, but also moments of nobility and heroism. By the end of Wrong Turn, you’re rooting for the college student and her dad. You want them to survive their ordeal.
There is no nobility or heroism in Killing Them Softly. It’s just a slog through the mud of human existence. (Please don’t watch this movie if you’re already feeling down about the state of the world.)
There is one bright spot, and this may be the only bright spot. According to Wikipedia, the original director’s cut of Killing Them Softly was more than 150 minutes (2.5 hours) in length. We can be grateful that they trimmed the final version to only 97 minutes. But it was still 97 minutes too long.