Making a violent, moody crime flick about a heist gone bad wasn’t enough for director Andrew Dominik.
His followup to the awkwardly titled “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” also had to be about … something. Thus “Killing Them Softly” became a hard-boiled crime flick that is also a political allegory played out against the 2008 presidential election and Wall Street’s financial meltdown.
Unfortunately, the combination doesn’t really work.
Brad Pitt stars (and also co-produces) as Jackie Cogan, a mob enforcer brought in to clean things up after a pair of bumbling hoods knock over a big-money poker game.
Pitt’s Jackie is calm and calculating, intelligent and mostly good-natured. He doesn’t like things to get messy, and he’s good at what he does.
Scoot McNairy (“Argo”) plays Frankie, a skittish small-time crook who is totally over his head, and is the film’s nominal sympathetic figure. Ben Mendelsohn is his poorly chosen partner in crime, Aussie junkie and dog-napper Russell.
Ray Liotta is a welcome sight as the man who runs the illegal game and knows how to take a helacious beating.
“Killing Them Softly” is stylish and atmospheric, with some clever dialogue, but it doesn’t have a lot of substance. It has the feel of a vanity piece — one of those where someone like James Gandolfini has a couple of free days, so he comes in and films two scenes with Brad Pitt and then gets out, without interacting with anyone else.
In this case, Gandolfini is Mickey, a hard-drinking, aging hit man called in to help Pitt with his job. It’s an interesting part, but goes absolutely nowhere.
Dominik also takes pains to hit the viewer over the head with the political overtones. Every TV and radio playing in every bar and vehicle is blaring some political speech from Barack Obama or George Bush or John McCain, and Pitt wraps up the movie with a pointed speech that seems like it’s supposed to have heavy meaning but doesn’t.
There is good stuff in “Killing Them Softly,” but it’s not always easy to see.
Rental Recommendation: Pitt is hilariously stupid in the Coen Brothers movie “Burn After Reading.” Grade: B-plus.
Email Steve Ouellette: firstname.lastname@example.org