28 posts categorized "Crime Drama"

October 30, 2012


Killing Them Softly

Bankers’ Penalty Andrew Dominik’s One-Movie Revolution Comes Calling 

One of the ten best films of 2012, Andrew Dominik’s cold-blooded satire of American corporate-political-capitalism cuts through its subject like a freshly sharpened guillotine blade. Fortunately someone still wants retribution for the $7.77 trillion that Bush and Obama handed out to criminal banksters while ordinary Americans sank into poverty. Justice, however, has to wait. Until then: allegory.

The New Zealand auteur responsible for the magnificent neo-western “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” manipulates the crime drama genre with an irrefutable cinematic panache. Economic metaphors big and small fill the narrative about gangster vengeance set in 2008. Dominik based the script on a George V. Higgins novel — see Peter Yates’s “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.”


Every greasy hoodlum character here represents a stratum of economic influence. Lowlife Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) brings home the nothing-to-lose emigrant faction. When Russell’s fellow immoral pal Frankie (Scoot McNairy) tries to land a card-game hold-up job from a slimy smalltime kingpin named Johnny Amato — a.k.a. Squirrel — Russell is quick to set his would-be boss man straight as to just who is doing whom a favor. Speaking truth to power comes with a thick dose of irreverent irony. The fact that Russell is a junkie with not much more on his mind than where his next fix or lay is coming from is beside the point. Russell is on the lowest rung of society’s ladder but that doesn’t prevent him from maintaining self-respect along with his hedonistic priorities.

The successful heist that follows requires a visit from a corporate-minded honcho known only as the Driver (Richard Jenkins). From his mobile office the Driver hires professional hit man Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to settle the score. The men who orchestrated and executed the heist have to pay. No crime goes unpaid. If you’ve ever wondered about what it would look like for the banker bastards who ruined America’s economy to have to make penance with their own flesh, the filmmakers deliver a beautifully brutal vision of such a comeuppance.


The film’s evocative title stretches across the narrative like a transparent satin sheet. Brad Pitt’s character is methodical and cynical, yet he’s fully aware of the emotional burden of his deadly occupation. He says of his profession that he likes to kill from a distance; predator drones come to mind. Jackie goes so far as to ask for the assistance of a hit man he worked with several years earlier. James Gandolfini’s Mickey isn’t as together as he used to be. He’s turned into a raging alcoholic with an addiction to prostitutes. If Jackie represents a self-protective mercenary, Mickey is a cautionary vision of where Jackie could be headed if he isn’t careful. Everyone gets corrupted. It’s just a matter of time and opportunity.


“Killing Them Softly” is a stylish crime drama made up of piercing monologues and canny dialogue that reverberates with social implications. Nothing is wasted. People and places are appropriately ugly. Every performance is spot-on. That the film so effectively lashes out at economic hypocrisy in America is truly rewarding. Here is a one-movie revolution against all of the corporate-controlled two-party bullshit that has turned America into a third-world dictatorship. Brilliant is too soft a word to describe it.

Rated R. 97 mins. (A+) (Five stars - out of five/no halves)

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August 28, 2012


LawlessMoonshine Rebels
Public Enemy Era Splashes with Booze and Blood

Inflected with the same gritty appreciation for brutal violence that director John Hillcoat applied to his Australian-set period Western “The Proposition,” “Lawless” is a Depression era bootleg gangster fantasy baked in booze, blood, and grime. Based on Matt Bondurant’s 2008 fictionalized account of his grandfather’s moonshine-running exploits (“The Wettest County in the World”) in Franklin County, Virginia, singer-songwriter Nick Cave takes up screenwriting and musical composition duties. The result is an entertaining crime drama embellished with various cartoonish plot and character elements. Cave’s deconstructed blues version of Lou Reed’s “White Light / White Heat” thoughtfully accents the action.

Ardent sincerity from a talented ensemble obfuscates the film’s more risible aspects. Guy Pearce’s shrill portrayal of Special Deputy Charlie Rakes, a corrupt Chicago lawman on a mission to eradicate Franklin County of its many bootleg still operations, is laughable nevertheless. Rakes is a sexually conflicted dandy right out of J. Edgar Hoover’s playbook. The character may as well have a “V” for villain stitched across his chest.


The height of Prohibition, circa 1931, makes a profitable living possible for a cloistered community of backwoods “hillbillies” who would otherwise have no way to thrive. Moonshine stills light up the side of a mountain like “lights on a Christmas tree.” Benoit Delhomme’s evocative cinematography captures a timeless quality that registers as Virginia although the movie was filmed in Georgia.

The Bondurant brothers — Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke), and Jack (Shia LaBoeuf) — have a widespread reputation as the most feared clan of moonshiners in the region. Forrest has a way with brass knuckles. As with most of the characters Tom Hardy creates, Forrest has a presence that resonates throughout even when the character isn’t onscreen. The notorious siblings even sell their famously potent jars of white lightening to local good ole boy police officers until the fey Charlie Rakes arrives with his own crew of “law” enforcers to take a cut of the local economic pie. Every other moonshiner might be willing to play ball with Deputy Rakes, but the Bondurants refuse to share. The battle lines are drawn. Much blood will be spilled.


Gary Oldman chews his limited share of the scenery as Floyd Banner, a big time Chicago mobster that Shia LaBoeuf’s Jack does business with after narrowly avoiding a premature burial. Oldman’s character is crucial to the story because Floyd Banner represents an urban version of the outlaw that Jack aspires to be like. Jack inches out Forrest as the story’s main protagonist. He starts out as a wimp that finds inner strength through his latent ambition. While not the best casting choice for the role, LaBoeuf delivers a competent performance.

Lawless (1)

Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska cast glows of womanly perspective as objectives of desire for Forrest and Jack, respectively. Chastain especially adds dimension to the film for her character Maggie’s bold resolve to work for the gang at the gas station they own, and romantically align herself with the stoic Forrest. The slight allusion to Bonnie and Clyde is unmistakable.

“Lawless” never pretends to be anything more than a revved up period-piece gangster movie. If the movie takes a few too many liberties regarding the survivability of its invincible leading characters, the trespass is forgivable.

Rated R. 115 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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July 14, 2012


SavagesOliver Stone revs up the crime thriller genre with an energetic video-nasty that keeps up with modern sensibilities regarding sex, drugs, and violence. A cozy ménage a trois is at the heart of a kidnap story that bounces between Southern California and Mexico. Too much voice-over exposition from Blake Lively’s center-of-attraction character “O” — she was named after Ofelia, not the subject of “The Story of O” — mars the flow of action. O is the mutual girlfriend to war vet Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and to his stoner best friend Ben (Aaron Johnson). Chon is the alpha to Ben’s beta. As O describes them, Chon is the Earth, while Ben is the soul of the threesome. Chon gives O orgasms. She gives him “wargasms.” Ben, on the other hand, makes love to her. As Salma Hayek’s villainous drug queenpin Elena describes them, Chon and Ben love each other more than they care for O, or else they wouldn’t be able to share her. And share her they do.


Chon and Ben run a most profitable pot business from their posh Malibu seaside home. Using high-octane pot seeds Chon shipped over from his tour in Afghanistan, the boys have created a wicked weed that packs an unheard of “33% THC” punch. Elena’s Mexican drug cartel wants in on Chon’s and Ben’s business model. Not even John Travolta’s corrupt FBI official Dennis is much use to his pot-slinging buddies in the face of Elena and her brutal crew. Benicio Del Toro burns up the screen as Elena’s number-one enforcer Lado. From the looks of it, Del Toro has more fun chewing up scenery than nearly anyone else in the movie.


Based on Don Winslow’s novel, the story takes its time getting into gear. Ben and Chon would rather go off the grid in Indonesia than play ball with Elena and her bloodthirsty thugs, who are known for decapitating people and blowing out brains. Savages they are. This is not a movie for moviegoers with weak stomachs. Much blood is spilled. Ben and Chon take a day too long to get out of town. Elena’s boys kidnap O before laying down the law about how business will run for the next three-years — the first of which O will spend as a hostage. Naturally, Chon and Ben have a few ideas about how to rescue O.

Oliver Stone keeps politics largely out of the picture, but the subtext is written on the wall about things such as, the planned obsolescence of corporations, and America’s shifting attitudes toward sex and marijuana. Still, “Savages” is more willing to pull punches in the bedroom than it is in the arena of torture and murder. For all of the film’s outrageous violence, the tone is almost jocular. Oliver Stone could easily have gone heavier on the sex to balance out the bloodshed.

Rated R. 129 mins. (B) (Three stars - out of five/no halves)

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