Killing Them Softly
★ ★ ★ - Good
An unusual crime film that manages to stand out from the congested field by doing a lot of different things and doing them very well. Usually, "it's not about the plot" means my eyes are going to glaze over (which I think happened to many), but the characters are an interesting bunch of losers who can't get past their own personal flaws. The tallest mountain is James Gandolfini, cast well against type as a specialist whose life is falling apart so hard that he's completely useless. He doesn't even see what bad shape he's in, covering it up with booze and bluster. His scenes stop the story cold, but they're fascinating detours.
Andrew Dominik is getting better at drawing out the moments, highlighted by a robbery towards the beginning that's excruciating to sit through. (Ben Mendelsohn, another actor playing outside his wheelhouse to great effect.) Dominik overbakes everything just enough so that there's an elevation to the performances and dialogue without seeming phony. This tone is cocooned by a world in economic collapse, with constant speeches by politicians playing on the TV and radio, a sound mix that's as bold and strong as Nolan's Dunkirk, a number of impressive scenes and shots that alone make this worth watching, and Art Direction that exudes polluted desperation like Bela Tarr filmed in color. Like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, it doesn't satisfy as a genre film, but it's got a lot of quality.