Sunday, March 24, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: Higgins' curdled criminals crow in Dominik's KILLING THEM SOFTLY

Could KILLING THEM SOFTLY, the new film (out this week on DVD & Blu-ray) from Andrew Dominik, based on a novel by the late George V. Higgins, possibly have been a hit? Doubtful -- even with its semi-starry cast that includes Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini. Unlike another Higgins' novel-to-film, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (which was not a hit in its day, either), this one tries to graft Higgins' fine and understated, yet pointed and realistic dialog onto a would-be, super-stylistic display of ultra-slo-mo bullets and light-show drug-trips. The result resembles the movie love-child of Tarantino and Mamet on a less-than-productive day.

The visual displays periodically provided by Mr. Dominik (who is shown at left) go so against the style of the dialog scenes -- close-up conversations done ultra-realistically -- that they seem like embar-rassing showing off on the part of the film-maker. (The visual style of his Jesse James/
Robert Ford movie, as boring as it grew to be over a very long running time, at least seemed consistent with the rest of the film.) But Dominik seems to have wanted to give us a "hit man" art film, and while certain directors (especially Melville) have done this sort of thing -- they used a lot less dialog, which often tends to fight with, rather than complement, the emphasis on composition and visuals.

You won't mind watching the good cast at work, however -- and boy, they are good! Most of the characters here are extremely stupid, so much so that they prove their own undoing. But they amuse while (un)doing it. Pitt (above) is mostly taciturn and slightly brighter than the rest, and he has a somewhat humane manner of killing, in which his victim often doesn't realize what is about to happen and so is spared undue fear.

Richard Jenkins is aces as the never-get-my-hands-dirty company man, and Gandolfini (above) is funniest of all as the way-past-his-prime hit man. Ray Liotta (below) shines as the guy who started this crime ball rolling well prior to the movie's opening. He garners much of any sympathy the film engenders, even though he, too, is as dumb as they come.

As the two low-level criminals assigned the job of robbing Liotta's illegal card game, Australia's Ben Mendelsohn (below, left, of Animal Kingdom) and Scoot McNairy (below, right), beautifully render these two obnoxious losers. McNairy, in particular (as good as I've seen him so far), manages to somehow make us care for his character. His demise is all the sadder for his complete inability to see it coming.

From The Weinstein Company in tandem with Anchor Bay Entertainment, the DVD and Blu-ray of Killing Them Softly (thankfully running only 98 minutes) hits the street this Tuesday, March 26.

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