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Killing Them Softly: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Killing Them Softly (2012) movie poster Killing Them Softly

Theatrical Release: November 30, 2012 / Running Time: 97 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Andrew Dominik / Writers: Andrew Dominik (screenplay); George V. Higgins (novel Cogan's Trade)

Cast: Brad Pitt (Jackie Cogan), Scoot McNairy (Frankie), Ben Mendelsohn (Russell), James Gandolfini (Mickey), Richard Jenkins (Driver), Vincent Curatola (Johnny Amato "The Squirrel"), Ray Liotta (Markie Trattman), Trevor Long (Steve Caprio), Max Casella (Barry Caprio), Sam Shepard (Dillon), Slaine (Kenny Gill), Linara Washington (Hooker)

Buy Killing Them Softly from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy DVD Instant Video

After making two films together, it seems clear that Brad Pitt and Australian writer/director Andrew Dominik make a commercially lethal and critically potent combination. Hindered by a limited release, their 2007 Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford drew strong reviews and just under $4 million at the box office. Last fall, Killing Them Softly followed suit, grossing a lousy $15 million in wide release.
You assume that Dominik is responsible for the financial failure. The robust performances put up by most of the varied entries in Pitt's diverse, respectable filmography establish him as one of Hollywood's few reliable draws at a time when concept and brand seem far more important than movie stars. Nonetheless, the actor's desire to reunite with Dominik despite the losses on Jesse James (which counted Pitt among its producers) emphasizes the high value Pitt places on creativity, a priority that has enabled him to work with many of today's most esteemed filmmakers.

Adapted from George V. Higgins' 1974 novel Cogan's Trade (the film's working title), Killing Them Softly is updated to take place in the fall of 2008. While the presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain was heating up, America and, by extension, the world were enduring an economic meltdown. Dominik somewhat clunkily uses sound bites from Obama and George W. Bush to establish that period as a parallel to our finance-based story in the foreground.

At the advice of an associate, two lowlife junkie hoods (Argo's Scoot McNairy and Animal Kingdom's Ben Mendelsohn) hold up the card games of Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), a gangster who has confessed to staging the very same crime in the not so distant past. That deception was forgiven, but this one casts immediate suspicion over Markie, who legitimately has nothing to do with this armed robbery.

His nose smushed in by a stocking cap, Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and his friend rob a high-stakes mobster poker gathering. Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is hired by the Driver (Richard Jenkins) to settle scores following a robbery.

Enter Jackie Cogan (Pitt), a veteran hitman who gives the film its Roberta Flack-ish title by voicing his preference to kill from a distance and therefore avoid emotional displays. Working with an unassuming man the end credits only name Driver (Richard Jenkins), Jackie and his enforcers try to get to the bottom of the theft by finding and punishing the parties responsible. To perform one of the hits, Jackie has his colleague Mickey (James Gandolfini) fly in. It's not a great plan, as Mickey is in a depressed funk, facing jail time and a divorce. That leaves Jackie to do the lion's share of the justice-serving, as our time is divided between him and the two robbers on the lam.

Dominik seems defiantly uncommercial here. Though given prominent solo above-the-line billing, Pitt doesn't appear until 23 minutes into the film. In that time, we don't see a single easily recognized actor, save for the now routinely direct-to-video Liotta. The only woman heard in the film is a demeaned prostitute. Likable characters are nowhere to be found. The material is quite dark, with few laughs to lighten the mood. The criminals take little joy in their work, seeing it as a means to an end. They are conversational, their chats often having little relevance to the plot itself.

All of this makes it somewhat easy to understand how Killing Them Softly became the rare film to earn an "F" CinemaScore from audiences. That mark of commercial death has only been attached to seven earlier films, six of them unloved horror movies and the other Steven Soderbergh's dull Solaris remake. Any film that plays that poorly with audiences is guaranteed to endure a steep second weekend drop. Killing upheld that tradition and since it only managed a weak 7th place opening the prior week, it became The Weinstein Company's biggest bust since that studio found its footing.

Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) tries to convince his rainy nighttime visitors that he was not behind this latest robbery. Hit man Mickey (James Gandolfini) tries to drown his legal and marital problems in alcohol and prostitutes.

Killing may not be as magnetic as Jesse James, but it is not a bad film, just a challenging one that thwarts expectations. Crime films imply action, but this one contains just a few scenes where that action is something other than talking.
There is some brutal violence (one scene turning it into a stylish super-slow motion display) and plenty of vulgar dialogue, two ingredients in many of the esteemed comparable works of Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. But people don't like those elements at face value, they have to be tied to story and characters that grip and appeal. Many viewers are likely to be turned off by the sleazy, joyless personalities, crude sexual talk, and bureaucracy pigeonholed into some kind of forced political analogy. Even Pitt's signature handsome charm is dialed down in the role of an antihero ugly inside and out.

Still, there is a difference between liking a movie and appreciating it. That is a distinction that some viewers may make. Dominik brings obvious craft and tact to the presentation, including deft and nerve-wracking camera movement. His reluctance to be palatable, however, undoubtedly hurts his chances to sustain the prominent career that his talent clearly warrants.

Four months after starting its ignoble theatrical run, Killing Them Softly hits DVD and a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack on Tuesday from Weinstein video partner Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Watch Killing Them Softly's home video trailer:

Killing Them Softly Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Two single-sided discs (BD-25 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available in standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Studios have so mastered the art of transferring new films to Blu-ray Disc that this section usually requires little more than a confirmation of the expected high quality. Unusually, Killing Them Softly falls short of that. The 2.40:1 picture is often lacking in sharpness and detail, looking kind of out of focus and not all that much better than the standard definition of DVD. I guess that look is deliberate; in an American Cinematographer article, Dominik explained the desire for "a kind of creaminess that harked back to a look that might have existed in the Seventies." But it makes for a less than satisfactory presentation for those accustomed to 1080p viewing.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is better, keeping dialogue crisp and including a bit of noticeable directionality. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are supplied.

Screenwriter/director Andrew Dominik explains his decision to set the film against the 2008 financial crisis in "The Making of 'Killing Them Softly.'" Per his once titular trade, Jackie Cogan wipes his fingerprints off a crime scene on the DVD's main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

On both Blu-ray and DVD, the film is joined by just two bonus features, which the Blu-ray presents in HD.

First, "The Making of Killing Them Softly" (5:17) is a short, surface-scraping featurette.

Andrew Dominik explains his ideas and actors Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Scoot McNairy, Ray Liotta and Vincent Curatola share their thoughts on the material. Though many of them talk about working with Pitt, he is strangely a no-show.

Beyond that, we find four deleted scenes (9:51). Three of them are car conversations and the other is an alternate version of a restaurant scene. The most notable one gives backstory to McNairy's character, while the rest are fairly unremarkable. This is a small sampling of what was cut, based on reports of a 2 hour first cut and the deletion of actor Garret Dillahunt.

Anchor Bay has joined the majority of studios who now favor a two-disc combo pack whose second disc is the same DVD sold on its own. That means that the digital copy is relegated to a download. Two downloads, actually; you can get a file in iTunes format or you can enjoy a stream via the cloud-based UltraViolet.

The discs open with trailers for Silver Linings Playbook (SD on Blu-ray), The Master (HD), and Fox's Broken City (HD), none of which are menu-accessible. Killing's own unappetizing trailer is not included.

The creative menu places listings over a short, looped silent clip of Jackie cleaning up a crime scene.

The fully color labeled Blu-ray and plain silver DVD take opposite sides of a standard blue keepcase, joined only by a double-sided insert holding the two unique codes you'll need for redeeming those digital copies. Sadly, Weinstein Blu-rays continue not to allow resuming or bookmarking.

Contract mob enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) instills fear in Frankie (Scoot McNairy), one of the men behind the robbery.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A notch beneath Brad Pitt's usual high standards, Killing Them Softly will disappoint some viewers, a number of whom will be turned off by the unappealing content and characters. But Andrew Dominik's film is fairly arresting, mostly well-executed, and clearly superior to the average crime drama. It's probably not a film you return to much, if ever, and the Blu-ray combo pack offers frustratingly (but apparently intentionally) subpar picture and a light supply of extras. That makes a rental more fitting than a purchase. And you'd be better off giving Pitt and Dominik's previous collaboration, The Assassination of Jesse James, a look, if you're among the many who haven't seen that more satisfying film.

Buy Killing Them Softly from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy / DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed March 20, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2012 The Weinstein Company, Plan B, Clockstone Pictures, Inferno, Annapurna Pictures,
and 2013 Anchor Bay Entertainment and The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.