21 Aug 2014
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This Week at the Movies

'Killing Them Softly' is a cynical but clever crime picture as political allegory, while Chile's 'Young and Wild' tries too hard to be controversial.

This Week at the Movies

Set amid the 2008 financial crisis and presidential election, Andrew Dominik’s “Killing Them Softly” is a grim, slow burn of a crime film that doubles as a political allegory.

George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Ben Bernanke all make appearances during the course of the film, but no bailouts are in sight for the picture’s assortment of lowlifes, criminals and aspiring thugs.

Based upon a 1970s novel by George V. Higgins, but updated to fit our modern times, “Killing Them Softly” begins with a crime that appears to go off without a hitch.

A low-rent criminal (Vincent Curatola of “The Sopranos”) hires a couple of nitwits (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) to knock over a card game hosted by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). The catch is that Markie once admitted to robbing his own card game several years back, so he will naturally be the suspect the second time around.

To the tune of Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around,” Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), a cold as ice mob enforcer, makes his way into town. He meets with mob lawyer Driver (Richard Jenkins) to discuss what needs to be done to right the situation.

Cogan calls in backup in the form of New York Mickey (James Gandolfini), who was formerly a go-to assassin but is now a sex addicted alcoholic.

Eventually, Cogan knows he’s going to have to take on the entire assignment himself, leading to several brutal confrontations with several of the film’s shady characters.

Dominik’s previous film was the underrated “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” a meditative film about criminals that explored mythmaking, obsession and loneliness at the top. Even though “Killing Them Softly” does not reach the heights of that previous work, it is still an imaginative crime picture in its own right.

The financial crisis and the 2008 election loom large in the background as the criminals go about their business and C-SPAN is – perhaps, unrealistically – playing on the televisions of their local dive bars and card games.

But the political undertone of the film finally comes together with the world of criminals depicted in the picture in the form of a punchline during the finale in which Pitt’s cynical enforcer tells a cohort, “I’m living in America and in America you’re on your own. America’s not a country. It’s just a business.”

Marialy Rivas’s “Young and Wild” is an example of misplaced reckless abandonment. The film follows the travails of a young woman named Daniela (Alicia Rodriguez) who is raised in a strict Evangelical family in Chile and becomes conflicted when her hormones take control.

Daniela launches a blog – “Young and Wild” – during which she discusses her graphic fantasies, sexual exploits and struggles with her family's zealous beliefs.

Throughout the course of the film, Daniela becomes involved with a young man who works at the Evangelical television station at which she is employed as well as a female camerawoman. Other plotlines include Daniela’s domineering and prudish mother as well as an aunt dying from cancer.

All of this could have made for interesting subject matter, but Rivas appears so intent on being outlandish and controversial that the film eventually loses steam.

It would appear that the adage “everything in moderation” even adequately applies to stories of a ribald nature.

“Killing Them Softly” is playing at Kew Gardens Cinemas and “Young and Wild” is screening at Manhattan’s IFC Center.

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