CANNES REVIEW: Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly
Directed by: Andrew Dominik
Written by: Andrew Dominik (screenplay), George V. Higgins (novel)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Scott McNairy, Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins

Killing Them Softly is a blunt critique of modern American society set against the backdrop of the 2008 elections.  It takes place inside an organized crime syndicate whose true power is never really revealed.  What is revealed is that Brad Pitt is an enforcer, and that he is very good with a shotgun and telling people he’s going to kill them.

This movie is directed by Andrew Dominik, who also collaborated with Pitt in the much better 2007 movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  Their latest endeavor is too vague to be revelatory and enjoys showing violence too much to say something with it.  It is highly stylized and wonderfully filmed, but ultimately empty.  It hinges on Pitt’s on-screen charisma, which is as in tact and tongue-in-cheek as always.

James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins and especially Ray Liotta provide terrific supporting characters in an otherwise weak men’s club of a cast.  Liotta takes one of the most brutal beatings in recent movie memory after it is suspected that he set up the robbery of one of his own illegal poker games.  In fact, it was two beginning lowlifes (Scott McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) looking for a quick pay day, as it often is in these kinds of movies.

Injecting snippets from coverage of the 2008 elections does little to heighten the story above its own self-made constraints.  Once the initial robbery occurs and the major characters are set up, it turns into Brad Pitt killing the various people involved with reckless abandon.  The only time the political angle pays off is in the terrific last conversation between Pitt and Richard Jenkins, where they discuss his payment for all the killing. Sure this scene ties together plot strands rather recklessly, but the whole thing seems thrown together rather recklessly.

Grade: C-

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CANNES REVIEW: In Another Country

In Another Country
Directed by: Hong Sang-soo
Written by: Hong Sang-soo (screenplay)
Starring: Isabelle Huppert and Yu Jun-Sang

With all the serious, morbid narratives taking root of the festival imagination in places like Cannes, it’s refreshing to see an exceptional movie with a light touch and a very warm sense of humor.  In Another Country, from Korean director Hong Sang-soo, is exactly that.  It is the story of stories, an examination of how a narrative takes form and is altered and rearranged until it is the most effective.

A barely-seen Korean woman dictates these stories into a notepad.  All of them star roughly the same cast of characters, though their roles and importance often change.  Isabelle Huppert plays the main woman in all of them, always a wayward traveler in Korea looking around for a lighthouse and meaning.  There is also the woman she is staying with, an attractive young lifeguard and various other acquaintances along the way.

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