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Killing Them Softly

Year: 2012
Production Co: Plan B Entertainment
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Director: Andrew Dominik
Producer: Brad Pitt
Writer: Andrew Dominik
Cast: Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mehdelsohn, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Sam Shepard

The next film by the director of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was always going to be thrilling to watch – unfortunately 'watch' is a more apt word than 'experience', because Dominick's direction from his own script is so slight on plot you'll wonder when a story's going to kick in.

When you realise what's unfolding in front of you isn't the prelude to a bigger tale, you'll wonder what all the fuss is about. Professional criminals are not only as screwed up and self interested as the rest of us, they're also nasty, violent and dirty? You don't say...

If Dominick's saying anything, it's not clear enough what it is. If he's not saying anything but just telling you a story, there's simply not enough story here that warrants the performances and aesthetic.

Of course there's one unmissable subtext, and that's the mirror the criminal underworld holds up to the highest echelons of Washington waxing lyrical about getting American out of the economic doldrums. The backing track of news broadcasts with George W Bush and Barack Obama promising to makes things better is both over-used and a little ham fisted.

Which is surprising, because Dominick has all the subtlety of an auteur when it comes to the inventive visuals, such as when scumbag Russell (Mendelsohn) is drifting in and out of consciousness on drugs.

Set in a dead-end city of weed-sprouting footpaths, abandoned buildings, a dank sheen and almost constant rain, two hoods hit a mob card game. Because the game's organiser Markie (Liotta) has admitted to robbing his own game before, everyone assumes he did it again.

What he has to do with unnamed corporate CEO Richard Jenkins I couldn't work out, but Jenkins meets sharp professional killer Jackie (Pitt) in hidden-away corners in his car, giving him the nod to dispatch everyone involved.

There's a well-acted subplot involving a New York hitman in Mickey (James Gandolfini), who Jackie brings in to help him with the job, but after all the characterisation and set-up, it's rendered completely redundant as Mickey turns out to be so washed up Jackie rats him to the cops just to get him out of the way.

The rest of the film is a procedural of Jackie finding and targeting the players himself, to no real conclusion other than an argument with his employer in a bar where they haggle over the price of the job.

The acting and directing are both extremely high quality, but after the sublime Jesse James and many of Pitt's past projects I wouldn't expect anything less from either he or Dominick. But when it ends it just feels like a bunch of kids squabbling over the brightest bauble in a sandbox. I expected a little more gravity.

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