Saturday, December 1, 2012

Killing them Softly [2012]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  Roger Ebert (2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review

My sense is that one's reaction to the quite violent, certainly appropriately R-rated film (parents take note...) film Killing them Softly (directed and screenplay by Andrew Dominik based on the novel by George V. Higgins), certainly aiming for Oscar consideration, will depend on one's politics.

This is because the film set in the New Orleans underworld in the fall of 2008 as the current Financial Crisis was unfolding juxtaposes speeches made at the time by the outgoing President G.W. Bush, his Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and the incoming President Barrack Obama, with a terribly ill-conceived and consequently botched attempt by a small group of "lower level wiseguys" to "knock-over" a mob run (hence already illegal) poker game.

Thus to buy-into the film one has to ask oneself if one accepts the film's premise that the U.S. economy is _also_ being run by a clique of perhaps far richer but still not altogether bright / "out of their depth" "white-collar wiseguys."  America's right-wing not withstanding, my sense is that probably the vast majority of American adult viewers and probably most viewers world wide will probably giddily relish indulging in the film's cynical / "hard boiled" premise even as they suspect the view to be over-simplified.  (To this date NO ONE has been charged much less gone to jail for the 2008 Wall Street financial meltdown...).

To the story... The film begins with lower level "wiseguy" Johnny Amato (played by Vincent Curatola) who runs a New Orleans dry-cleaning business talking two 20-something drifter-lowlifes, Frankie (played by Schoot McNairy) and Russell (played by Ben Mendelsohn), into knocking-over an illegal card game run for the mob by 40-something Markie Trattman (played by Ray Liotta).  The game had already been "knocked-over" _once_, a number of years before, and some months afterwards in a drunken stupor, Markie had _stupidly_ confessed to having staged it himself.  After being subsequently roughed-up/making appropriate amends, Markie had been given back responsibility for the card game (presumably because the mob bosses felt that Markie would ensure that the game would now be "the safest" in town ... from their perspective).

But that's how Johnny Amato got his "bright idea."  IF ANYBODY "knocked-over" Markie's card game, guess who the Mob's gonna blame? -- Markie.  So good-ole Johnny explains to Frankie: "We have to do this because if we don't SOMEBODY ELSE WILL, and _we'll_ then be kicking ourselves for being so stupid for having had the idea and not doing it first..." (Sounds kinda like the logic behind the "mortgage backed derivatives" frenzy of the mid-2000s)  "You're a genius boss!" exclaims Frankie ... and a few days later there's Frankie and Aussie-accented Russell with pantyhose over their heads knocking over Markie's card game ...

But of course, the Mob's a little more intelligent in sifting through the pieces after Frankie and Russell knocked-over the card game than Johnny expected.  A few days later there's a mob "driver" (played by Richard Jenkins) talking to the cool, straight talking "go to fixer"/assassin Jackie (played by Brad Pitt).  The "driver" explains that the Mob still has a "soft spot" for Markie, screw-up that he's been ... Jackie tells him that "guilty or not" Markie's gotta go down "in order to _restore confidence_" (again, sound familiar? ...).

And then there are the other three "clowns."  What of them?  Well Jackie suggests "outsourcing" some of the work to a friend named Mickey (played by James Gandolfini) from Maryland because Jackie himself knew one of the guys involved and it's "it's kinda hard to kill someone you've had a working relationship with ..."

The rest of the film _methodically_ ensues ...

Again, almost every adult in America and probably across the world will understand this film.  The question is whether one buys its fundamental premise. And my sense is probably most viewers, at least on a gut level will...  I would add, that I suspect that both Brad Pitt (for Best Actor in a Leading Role) and Richard Jenkins (for Best Actor in a Supporting Role) will get consideration for Oscar nominations for their performances...

ADDENDUM - A great documentary on the 2008 Financial Crisis, reviewed here, and the winner for Best Documentary at the Oscars last year, was Inside Job [2010].

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1 comment:

  1. Father, I thought this was an extraordinary film on all levels. Although the connection being made between the financial crisis of 2008 and organized crime seemed to a bit heavy-handed at first, I congratulate you on making that connection seamless. "America is a business," says Brad Pitt's beautifully conceived and played Jackie. "Now, pay me!"

    The violence in this film felt real. It was not cartoonish. Although there was no gunfire or violence during the robbery scene, it was all I could do to sit still during that sequence and its progression out the door and into the getaway car. I was particularly impressed with the calmness of the poker players. They exuded toughness and the surefire confidence that this was a temporary inconvenience; nevertheless, it was terrifying to me the onlooker. I was so glad I wasn't in the room.

    I could not make myself see this film during its movie-house play, but I finally saw it on PPV last night. What a beautiful surprise. It seems to be set with a small window of opportunity for a sequel. I hope so.