Overview: Killing Them Softly, directed by Andrew Dominik, is a crime drama set during the 2008 Presidential election. The Weinstein Company. 2012. Rated R. 97 Minutes.
Strengths: There are a few good performances here with Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, and Brad Pitt. None of the acting performances are bad; however, none of them standout as great or exceptional. There is one scene which features a style choice viewers may enjoy. That scene features a shot captured by connecting the camera to an opening car door. This is an interesting technique that viewers may not have seen before.
Weaknesses: Killing Them Softly fancies itself an audacious, gritty, and stylized crime drama. It is none of these things except the crime drama part, and only then because there happen to be some crimes committed and some drama that incidentally occurs. In an attempt at flashy style, the film uses slow motion to enhance the visual flair of a few scenes, which ultimately leads the scenes to carry on too long, causing the viewer to lose any interest we may have accumulated.
Political Subtext: The film carries a heavy political theme, as speeches from the 2008 Presidential candidates are used as a backdrop to the opening scene. After this scene, the viewer is able to discern that there is a correlation with the film’s events and the nature of politics. However, throughout the film Dominik continues to hammer home his point by playing political debates and banter on radios and televisions in the background of almost every scene, finally culminating in (Spoiler Alert!) Brad Pitt’s character blatantly speaking the theme outright in the very last scene. At a certain point, once the political subtext is hammered into the viewer’s head enough, it is no longer the subtext of the film. It becomes the base of the entire film. Once Killing Them Softly sits on this base of political chastisement, it falls flat on its face. We get it, Dominik: crime is like politics and politicians are criminals. Thanks for making that clear.
Final Thoughts: Killing Them Softly fails to meet viewer’s high expectations after Dominik’s excellent 2007 film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford created a buzz surrounding his follow-up effort. The film is over-written, over-directed, and attempts to be brash and bold with its message, when a subtle and reserved approach would have been more effective.