Sometimes a director has a favorite actor that they jibe with whom they cast in a whole whack of movies in a row. Think Scorsese and DiCaprio Wes Anderson and Bill Murray or Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst. It's a sort of professional infatuation that can serve a project well but it can also lull them into self-indulgence. Although this is only the second time that Killing Them Softly's writer/director Andrew Dominik has worked with Brad Pitt it feels like they have a certain camaraderie. The symbiosis previously worked in their favor in 2007's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. This time around they never quite find the same rhythm.
Of course Killing Them Softly has an entirely difference cadence than that golden-hued meditative Western; it's stylishly violent and blackly hilarious. After all the catalyst for this whole affair is a half-cocked scheme cooked up by a wanna-be gangster nicknamed Squirrel (Vincent Curatola) and carried out by a desperate ex-con (Scoot McNairy) and a scummy Australian junkie (Ben Mendelsohn) who steals and sells purebred dogs for cash. Their plan to knock over a mobbed-up card game is air tight (or so it seems): the game runner Markie (Ray Liotta) has confessed to setting up a heist of his own game in the past. The knuckleheads think the card-players will blame him again.
Unfortunately for them Jackie Cogan (Pitt) is called in to investigate the matter. His record is impeccable his glasses mirror-slick and his hands steady. His technique is of course to kill his victims "softly " from a distance. "It's so embarrassing " he comments to a middleman played by Richard Jenkins to watch his targets plead and cry and lose control of their bodily functions. It's just as embarrassing to see his colleagues lose their mettle like Mickey (James Gandolfini) a gangster he called in to help out. Mickey is a dogged drunk and a womanizer who's given to rapturous platitudes about a prostitute he knew in Florida. "There's no ass in the whole world like a young Jewish girl who's hooking " he tells an increasingly frustrated Jackie. Grossly funny scenes like this the scatological problems one encounters while driving dog-napped pups across country and an explosion gone awry are outweighed by a weirdly bloated narrative that makes pits stops so characters can loll in junkie nods to the tunes of the Velvet Underground.
The changing political climate of the era is used as a clumsy foil for this underground economy. At first it's interesting and makes you feel a bit clever to notice the TV in the background playing an old clip of George W. Bush droning on about the economy or a huge political ad on a billboard looming over a desolate area. As time goes on Bush is replaced by Obama (first as senator later as president) on TV but nothing really changes for these people or their situations. Midway through it's obvious and by the end overbearing especially as Jackie lectures Jenkins's lawyer (and us) about why the system is as screwed as the characters. "America's not a country it's a business. Now f**king pay me " he tells Jenkins's Driver in an echo of the classic Goodfellas line uttered by Liotta.
Dominik has only made three films but he's a formidable writer and director with a keen eye for assembling ensemble casts. It's possible that time and multiple viewings will treat Killing Them Softly as well as it has The Assassination of Jesse James or Chopper but for now it works better as a character study or perhaps a showpiece for its talented performers than an overall experience.
The Producers Guild of America will give out awards tonight, with the teams behind A Beautiful Mind, Moulin Rouge and Shrek among those in contention for its top honor. The producers of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring are also in the running for the Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award.
The honor is similar to the motion picture academy's best picture prize, and the winner is considered a near shoo-in for Oscar gold. The 1,500-member Producers Guild has correctly predicted the best picture Oscar winner 10 out
of the last 13 years.
A Beautiful Mind, Lord of the Rings and Moulin Rouge are
nominated for both the PGA award and best picture Oscar. But the guild opted for box office hits Shrek and Harry Potter for its other two slots,
while the Academy chose the indie critic faves In the Bedroom and Gosford Park.
The Producers Guild will also hand out awards in three television categories, with such shows as The West Wing and The Sopranos among those in the running.
The teams behind CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Law & Order, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos and The West Wing are nominated for the Norman Felton Producer of the Year Award in episodic television-drama.
Contenders for the Danny Thomas Producer of the Year Award in episodic television-comedy are Frasier, Friends, Malcolm in the Middle, Sex and the City and Will & Grace.
The nominated producers of Frasier include the late David Angell, who was aboard one of the hijacked planes that crashed on Sept. 11.
Among the David L. Wolper Producer of the Year Award in longform television nominees are some well-known names--Billy Crystal for HBO's 61*, and Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg for HBO's Band of Brothers.
Husband-and-wife actors Bradley Whitford of The West Wing and Jane Kaczmarek of Malcolm in the Middle will host the guild's 13th annual ceremony at the Century Plaza Hotel & Spa.
Formed in 1950, the Producers Guild has about 500 active members and 1,000 affiliated members.
Here is the full list of nominees:
Darryl F. Zanuck Theatrical Motion Picture Producer of the Year Award in Motion Pictures
A Beautiful Mind, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, David Heyman
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh
Moulin Rouge, Martin Brown, Baz Luhrmann and Fred Baron
Shrek, Aron Warner, John H. William and Jeffrey Katzenberg
Norman Felton Producer of the Year in Episodic Television-Drama
CSI Crime Scene Investigation, Jerry Bruckheimer, Ann M. Donahue, Carol Mendelsohn, Anthony Zuiker, Jonathan Littman, Sam Strangis, Danny
Cannon, Cynthia Chvatal and William Petersen
Law & Order, Dick Wolf, Barry Schindel, Jeffrey L. Hayes, Lewis H. Gould and Kati Johnston
Six Feet Under, Alan Ball, Robert Greenblatt, David Janollari and Alan Poul
The Sopranos, David Chase, Brad Grey, Mitchell Burgess, Robin Green, Ilene S. Landress and Terence Winter
The West Wing, John Wells, Aaron Sorkin, Thomas Schlamme, Llewellyn Wells, Christopher Misiano, Alex Graves and Michael Hissrich
Danny Thomas Producer of the Year Award in Episodic Television-Comedy
Frasier, David Angell, Peter Casey, Kelsey Grammer, David Lee, Dan O'Shannon, Mark Reisman and Maggie Blanc
Friends, Kevin S Bright, Marta Kauffman, David Crane, Shana Goldberg-Meehan, Scott Silveri, Andrew Reich, Ted Cohen and Todd Stevens
Malcolm in the Middle, Linwood Boomer and James S. Simons
Sex and the City, Michael Patrick King, Cindy Chupack, John P. Melfi and Sarah Jessica Parker
Will & Grace, James Burrows, Jeff Greenstein, Max Mutchnick, David Kohan and Tim Kaiser
David L. Wolper Producer of the Year Award in Longform Television
61*, Billy Crystal and Ross Greenburg
Anne Frank, Hans Proppe and David R. Kappes
Band of Brothers, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Tony To
Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, Craig Zadan, Neil Meron, Robert Allan Ackerman and Lorna Luft
Wit, Cary Brokaw