Killing Them Softly
Director: Andrew Dominik.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Vincent Curatola.
THERE are many cinematic cardinal sins, but the latest film from Aussie director Andrew Dominik (Chopper, The Assassination Of Jesse James...) commits two of the big ones - Don't Be Boring and Don't Waste A Great Cast.
Despite a great start and promising material, this noir-ish gangster thriller stretches its plot too thinly and takes its sweet time to get nowhere satisfying.
In the meantime, Pitt, Mendelsohn, Jenkins and Gandolfini do their best to keep things interesting, but Dominik appears to be too enamoured with his own script to give it the hefty trimming or rewriting it and its characters need.
Pitt plays Jackie, a hitman brought in to clean up the mess left behind after two idiots (McNairy and Mendelsohn) rob an illegal poker game.
Not only does Jackie have to deal with these two clowns, he's also got on his hands the matter of what to do with the guy who runs the poker game, a shadowy syndicate pulling all the strings but not willing to pay much or make a decision, and a fellow hitman who's a depressed alcohol that would rather sleep with prostitutes than do the job he's hired to do.
The fodder for a darkly funny crime caper - maybe in the vein of Tarantino or Ritchie - is all there, and Dominik seems to be leaning that way initially, letting his characters tell semi-humourous stories at great length while plotting to do villainous things.
Unfortunately the director appears unable to get his head around the tone. The violence is too confronting and the comedy too unfunny. Maybe that was the point and feel he was going for, and this might have made Killing Them Softly interesting if it wasn't so drawn out and boring.
The plot is great (based on George V Higgins's novel Cogan's Trade), but the script hits the doldrums regularly. A scene involving Mendelsohn's character "nodding out" on heroin quickly goes from funny to frustrating, while the arrival of Gandolfini's boozy loser Mickey grinds the film to a halt.
Conversations between Jenkins's middle-man and Pitt's Jackie are slightly better, and the opening act of the film is impressive. Less successful is Dominik's attempt to wed themes about the global financial crisis and American economic hardship to his hitman adventure.
It's not a total waste of the time - the cast does well with what they have and there are glimmers of wit and style amid the slowness.
But ultimately this is a missed opportunity given this project had everything - cast, director and source material - going for it.