Greetings again from the darkness. No apologies will be made in regards to my fondness for mob, organized crime and hit-man movies. The underworld grit and quest for power makes for a colorful and meaty topic for books and movies. Still, with such a long and varied history of mob tales, we have come to expect a certain amount of action and a turf war for power and control. Director Andrew Dominik, working from a George V Higgins novel, delivers an artsy look at the emotional side of mobsters and then adds a heavy-handed slap of political and economic editorials.
Who knew hit men and mobsters TALKED so much? This plays like Dr Phil on The Sopranos. So often they are portrayed as men of few words who specialize in suppressing their emotions. Imagine how differently The Godfather movies would have played if Don Corleone had chatted about his feelings over tea with Barzini. Here we get Mickey the hit-man, played by James Gandolfini, as a man lost in booze and sleazy sex-for-pay. He has clearly lost his once sharp edge and now loves to tell stories that do nothing but showcase his lack of resolve. We get a few talky scenes with local criminal Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) and his small-time recruits Frankie (Scott McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn). We even get a talky high-stakes card game stick-up where mob guy Markie (Ray Liotta) tries to negotiate an end to the heist.
By far, most of the blabbing comes from mob fixer Jackie (Brad Pitt). It matters not whether he is in the car with the Driver (Richard Jenkins), in a bar with one of the punks, or in the hotel with schlubby Mickey, this guy just talks incessantly. Luckily for us viewers, the dialogue is extremely well written and often entertaining. But it still boils down to too much emotional baggage … especially from a guy who likes to kill ’em softly (from a distant).
The individual pieces of the film work very well. Ben Mendelsohn, who was so frightening in Animal Kingdom, is terrific here as the strung-out hoodlum always looking for a quick score. Liotta adds a sense of humor and realism, Gandolfini dominates the screen, and Pitt proves once again that he is at his best in a tough/bad guy role, rather than as a strutting poser.
Where the movie goes wrong is with the obnoxious and numerous attempts to make sure we catch the parallels between the US economic woes and those of the mob. The faceless “committee” mob clearly symbolizes our government’s inability to make wise decisions, and if somehow we miss all of that … Pitt’s final monologue spells it out for us. He firmly believes the US is not a country, but rather a business … and each of us is on our own. How ironic that the only mob business we witness is their killing off of each other. It’s always frustrating when the individual parts are greater than the movie as a whole, but an artsy looking mob film that beats us upside the head with a 90 minute message just can’t overcome the coolness of Brad Pitt with a shotgun and Johnny Cash singing (“The Man Comes Around”).
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you appreciated the artsy approach that director Andrew Dominik took with the western genre in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford OR you just want to see Brad Pitt looking cool brandishing a shotgun
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer mob movies to be about the inner-workings of mobsters seizing power OR you prefer pretty boy Brad Pitt to tough guy Brad Pitt
watch the trailer: