Brad Pitt may not be the best of actors if we define that benchmark by the method acting of say- Daniel Day Lewis. The thing about the tabloid fixture Pitt though is he has a track record of mostly excellent movies. Consider he has starred in the thrilling “Seven”, the culture changing “Fight Club”, the fun “Ocean’s Eleven”, the profoundly theological “Tree of Life” and the mad (but really good) “12 Monkeys”. Not to mention the solid “Moneyball” and Quentin Tarantino’s historical revisional masterpiece “Inglourious Basterds”.
Pitt’s latest film, an indie project “Killing Them Softly”, showed a lot of promise until one is actually sitting in the movie theater watching it. The film features a shoe-string plot in exchange for some fancy camerawork and a theme of the similarities between politics (or is that capitalism?) and the mob. The capitalism angle is hinted at so often and randomly that I felt assailed by a very bad lecturer.
The story follows Cogan (Pitt) who is called into post-Katrina New Orleans to clean up a mob mess created by Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) when they rip off a card game run by a mobster named Markie (wouldn’t you know it, Ray Liotta). Turns out Markie has a history of robbing his own card games and so, naturally the suspicion makes things complicated.
There are a series of brutal mob murders which, I guess, are supposed to represent the bloodless killings in politics or corporate boardrooms across America. Cogan mutters something about liking to kill people softly because when he is up close, there is too much emotion and messiness. Having stated his philosophy, the film portrays him killing somebody by pulling up in a car right beside them and blasting a guy from close range in the back of the head with a shotgun. So much for killing them softly. I was never sure how Cogan’s philosophy actually worked out in real life.
The overbearing theme pops up randomly through the film interrupting some meaningless conversations and dialogues. We see President Obama speaking on the economy and than George W Bush and blah, blah, blah. This is a movie that believes it is so profound but the execution makes it not so.
All of this is a real shame because the writer/director Andrew Dominik showed promise with the thoughtful and interesting “The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford” also starring Pitt. Here, he has misstepped.
The cast is full of wonderful actors. Joining the aforementioned are James Gandolfini as a, shall we say, distracted mobster and the great Richard Jenkins as Cogan’s handler. Pitt spends most of the movie with a silly smirk on his face with perhaps revelatory insight that the joke would be on the audience paying for this film.