Never quite the sum of its parts, “Killing Them Softly,” the new crime film starring Brad Pitt, tries hard to be hip and edgy.
Instead, it feels like a Quentin Tarantino wannabe.
Despite Pitt, the always-great character actor Richard Jenkins and a few individual moments, this is a bland exercise that feels too much like leftover parts from better movies in the same genre.
Based on a novel by George V. Higgins, “Killing Them Softly” tells the story of a couple of low-life criminals (Scott McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) who are hired to knock over a mob-controlled card game.
The heist sends the local criminal economy into turmoil. Wanting to provide stability for its clients, the local criminal hierarchy hires Jackie Cogan (Pitt), an enforcer who specializes in cleaning up mob messes.
Andrew Dominik, who wrote the screenplay and also directed, has crafted a film full of Tarantino-style dialogue. The only problem is most of the prose lacks the same sizzle as the films it aspires to be. The film also tries way too hard to draw a connection between the criminal economic downturn and the recession of 2008, a move that feels really forced.
“Killing Them Softly” isn’t a total loss.
The best moments involve conversations about the “business” between Pitt and a mob liaison played by Jenkins. Their scenes show promise and a bit of playful fun, but every time it gives “Softly” a bit of momentum, it comes to a stop with some crazy slow-motion bit of stylized violence that feels like a cheap gimmick.
James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta also add a little bit in minor roles, but it’s not enough to lift “Killing Them Softly” above mediocrity.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “The Dark Knight Rises” (A), one of the most eagerly anticipated films of 2012 that also proves to be one of the best.
The follow-up to the transcendent masterpiece “The Dark Knight” – and the final chapter in co-writer/director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy – isn’t quite the game-changer of the previous film. But it is still a dark and exhilarating epic, grounded in reality with a precise vision and craftsmanship that make it more than just another comic book movie.
Picking up eight years after the events in the previous film, we find Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) retired from his work as the caped crusader – a shut-in recluse still struggling to deal with the loss of his one true love.
The retirement comes to a sudden stop when Gotham is taken hostage by Bane (Tom Hardy), a mercenary with his own agenda beyond the mission he has been hired to achieve.
“The Dark Knight Rises” also throws in several new characters – including cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a young detective named Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and a fellow entrepreneur and eventual Wayne confidant named Miranda (Marion Cotillard) – each figuring prominently in the film’s intricate plot.
I’ve already seen “The Dark Knight Rises” multiple times – both in standard presentation and IMAX – and each time I’ve taken away a greater appreciation for what Nolan has created.
The cinematography and detail are exquisite, with Nolan producing a world that feels a lot like our own. The story feels more ripped from the headlines than a comic strip, with elements of everything from Occupy Wall Street to 9/11 in play here – all tied together in a story where every character seems to be seeking redemption in one form or another.
Nolan has also crafted a handful of amazing action sequences. The film starts with a sequence involving the hijacking of an airplane and builds to a battle on the streets of Gotham that is as satisfying as any action sequence in recent memory.
The cast is also superb, with Hathaway and Hardy welcome additions. Hathaway gives her sexy vixen a bit of a punch, a layered performance that requires the character to turn on a dime.
Hardy is quite memorable as the menacing brute Bane. It’s a character that could have easily been nothing but brawn, but evolves into something much more – feeling like one of those classic James Bond villains.
“The Dark Knight Rises” is not a perfect film. Matthew Modine’s antagonistic police officer feels a little heavy-handed and, as interesting as Bane is, this film feels slightly less satisfying, with nary a nod to Heath Ledger’s iconic performance as the Joker in the previous film.
Those are only minor quibbles for a trilogy that manages to exceed some lofty expectations. In a summer that has seen some really good comic book films, this is the best of the bunch.
“The Dark Knight Rises” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language, and is now available on DVD.