Film Review: Convoluted film should go softly away

Film Review: Convoluted film should go softly away
Brad Pitt stars as a mob enforcer in the movie “Killing Them Softly.” Photo courtesy of Melinda Sue Gordon

An excess of convoluted storyline and lack of clarity may leave audiences shaking their heads in disappointment after the final credits of “Killing Them Softly.”It seems complex narratives and ambiguous meanings have become the norm rather than the exception in modern cinema.

Although I don’t see anything inherently wrong with these ingredients when handled skillfully, when they aren’t what could have been a well-made film ends up being a wreck of confusion and boredom. Such a scenario fits the description of “Killing Them Softly,” with a bloody mass of flesh and bone substituting for the cherry on top.

Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola), a longtime hanger-on, devises a clever plan to rob a mob-protected card game. He dispatches jittery ex-convict Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and seedy junkie Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) to ensure the theft proceeds as planned. The three conspirators succeed in their endeavor, confident that the game’s regular dealer, Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), will take the fall and be the mob’s prime suspect. What Frankie, Russell, and Johnny fail to realize, however, is that their victory is about to be terminated on short notice by Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), a seasoned enforcer sent by the mob to administer punishment to those responsible for the card game heist.

For 97-minutes, the film overwhelms the audience with multiple storylines centering on different characters, all the while failing to establish a clear connection from one person’s story to the other. Sure, there seems to be some history between Pitt and James Gandolfini’s characters, and perhaps even something more going on between McNairy and Mendelsohn, but the details we receive from their interactions are insufficient to understand.

The televised prattling of America’s socioeconomic hard times does nothing to alleviate my frustration; it’s topical, yes, but what for purpose does it serve? Again, this question goes unanswered, leaving us in the dark about its relevance to this gritty crime thriller.

I think “Killing Them Softly” was under the impression that taking two of cinema’s most common elements in this day and age — narrative complexity and thematic ambiguity — would guarantee a one-way ticket to art-house glory.

Ha! A bold assumption, but a pretentious one at which I could laugh.

Just because something has proven to be successful at times doesn’t mean it will be effective all of the time.

After careful deliberation, it is my deepest regret to announce that “Killing Them Softly” will be forever acknowledged as a tragic failure unto itself. If you wish to erase this overstuffed pretention from your memory, rent such well-made crime films as “Heat,” “The Town,” or “Drive.” Yes, yes, either option would be the perfect cure to this catastrophe.

Playing: Wide Release
Run time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA rating: R for violence, sexual references, pervasive language and some drug use.

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