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In Killing Them Softly, writer/director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) slyly blends Great Recession, post-financial crisis America with the influence it has on the collapse of an anonymous small city’s local crime economy.
A gritty Brad Pitt stars as a hitman hired to take out a trio of stupid thieves who plot and rob a mob-protected poker game run by a luckless compulsive gambler (Ray Liotta). The three larcenous losers are idiots, but the script, based on George V. Higgins’ novel, gives them lots of memorable banter, and their leader is played by Vincent Curatola, who’s got one of the all-time great faces for a sad sack mobster (he played Johnny Sack on The Sopranos).
Pitt’s hitman teams with another professional killer (James Gandolfini), a more ruminative guy who prefers martinis and broads over following through with the original plan. As good as the scenes with the trio of thieves are, the sequences with and chemistry between Pitt and Gandolfini are tremendous. Gandolfini shows another side of himself, with traces of Tony Soprano but also completely different, while Pitt carries the movie with movie star presence while reminding us of his too-often overlooked genuine skills as an actor.
The movie makes some deeply cynical points about modern America -- “America’s not a country, it’s a business,” Pitt’s character says at one point -- but as it plays out and the violence increases and distances us from the characters and the material, it degenerates into another gory Tarantino-wannabe that felt like a lot of movies I’ve seen before. Cinematographer Greig Fraser makes it look great throughout, though. (**1/2) -- Nate Shevlin
Hitchcock is not an Alfred Hitchcock biography, but rather a vignette from his life in 1959, as the great director and his wife take major risks with little support, battling evil Paramount Pictures studios and the MPAA to make the boundary-pushing, genre-defining horror thriller Psycho. It also explores the relationship between "Hitch” (a disappointing Anthony Hopkins, maybe he can’t do everything -- though props to the makeup crew), his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren, who steals the role of heroine) and his leading ladies, Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel).
Hitchcock fans will find director Sacha Gervasi’s film visually clever and nostalgic—plenty of silhouettes and profile shots of Hitchcock, and allusions and references to his other work. The portrayal of his relationship with his wife, while rocky at this point, is warmer than I expected and overall the film does a nice job balancing humor with sentimentality. The audience was laughing heartily during the first scene, the last scene and enough spots in between to qualify the film as a successful comedy -- not what I expected, but not a disagreeable surprise, either.
The film is informative. The murders in Psycho were based on a book inspired by the murderer Ed Gein. Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville was extremely talented and played a significant role in the making of his movies. Intriguing backstories of the making of Psycho, are the better part of the plot, including Hitchcock battling with the ratings board, a great excerpt from the cutting room, and how the iconic music in the shower scene made it into the film.
But Hitchcock also tries too hard to be something it’s not and fails; throughout the film obvious themes of voyeurism and poorly developed attempts to compare Hitchcock to Gein, as he imagines visits with the killer and takes advice from him. It would have been smarter to stick to a more traditional biopic, a beefed up, more comic take on a story you think you know but probably don’t.
The film is nothing like a real Hitchcock film – it’s warm, sentimental, un-suspenseful, predictable, and comic. Hopkins’ Hitchcock doesn’t come across as very likable or even terribly quirky, and in the end Helen Mirren’s performance and character steal the show. I took my dad, and I think he summed it up best when he called it “entertaining but forgettable. It’s no Psycho.” (**1/2) – Kristina Eastham