There’s a great short film nestled inside of “Killing Them Softly,” namely the two scenes between mob enforcer Jackie (Brad Pitt) and Mickey (James Gandolfini), the out-of-town hit man Jackie has hired to take care of a problem within the organization.
And while these two scenes aren’t the only parts of the movie that work, the occasional moments of brilliance are far outweighed by the constant references to 2008’s economic collapse and bank bailout. Having the radio or TV report this news once or twice to make a point about organized crime and capitalism? Fine. Shoehorning it into the film a dozen or so times? Enough already.
“Killing,” based on George V. Higgins’ novel “Cogan’s Trade,” follows the ripple effect of a hold-up on a mob-run card game. Johnny (Vincent Curatola, best known as Johnny Sack from “The Sopranos”) sends low-lifes Frankie (Scoot McNairy, “Argo”) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn, “Animal Kingdom”) to rob a poker game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta).
Markie, you see, suffered a previous robbery, but then later revealed that he was the mastermind behind the crime. Johnny figures that if one of Markie’s games gets hit again, everyone will assume that Markie is responsible. And Johnny’s right.
Enter Jackie, summoned by the enigmatic Driver (Richard Jenkins), a guy so far up the chain that he comes off more like a district manager than a made man. They know that Markie is innocent, but the situation calls for him to be punished anyway, since perception is that he was the organizer. But there’s also Frankie and Russell and Johnny to be dealt with, so Jackie brings in Mickey, who may or may not be up to the job of discreetly taking care of business.
The whole witty-gunman thing has been done to excess in the 20 years since “Reservoir Dogs,” but one would have hoped that writer-director Andrew Dominik, coming off the brilliant and underrated “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” might have injected some new life into this sagging genre. And while the cast is consistently watchable and on-point, Dominik disappoints as both scenarist and filmmaker.
The plotting is wobbly, the narrative runs out of steam — and seriously, all the banking stuff gets unbearable after a while. (Mobsters apparently watch “Charlie Rose” and C-Span 24/7, if this movie is to be believed.)
So while you’ll be seeing snippets of this film when cast members eventually start collecting career achievement awards, “Killing Me Softly” isn’t going to blow too many people away.