Neil Fox on film: Killing Them Softly, Savages

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Killing Them Softly

Beware the trailers that make this film seem like a Get Shorty or Burn After Reading-esque romp, because this is not that film.

This is as brutal and violent and blistering a dissection of the American Dream as you are likely to see.

Andrew Dominik follows up his seminal Western – also starring Brad Pitt – The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford with this scintillating pulp adaptation that easily ranks as one of the finest films of the year.

It is funny, and it is cool, but it’s also extremely violent and compellingly forward with its political message regarding corruption at all levels within the American system, a system that creates an illusion of choice for all.

Pitt is brought in following a heist gone bad to smooth out the edges, starting with Ray Liotta’s gangster who hit his own card game and is suspect number one when it’s hit again.

He receives the film’s most excruciating beating. Next up for Brad are the real thieves, as hapless as you have seen.

Along the way he nurses a depressed and disintegrating hitman (James Gandolfini) and tries to school the corporate hand behind it all (Richard Jenkins) in the law of the street.

Impeccable performances, great soundtrack, amazingly shot and just all-round top notch.

Dominik is fast becoming the best cinematic chronicler of the American Dream, a veritable celluloid Hunter S. Thompson.

House At The End Of The Street

The experience of watching this film recalls seeing Jodie Foster in Panic Room. A fantastic actress reduced to genre limitations and sexed up to compensate for lack of narrative conviction.

What’s interesting in both cases is how the actresses elevate the material to something greater by virtue of sheer force of will.

Jennifer Lawrence is emerging as a genuinely great performer and here she is a young woman in a new town who learns a secret about the house next door.

It’s a tired concept, but Lawrence, fresh from X-Men, The Hunger Games and the peerless Winter’s Bone, creates tension and empathy for her character and predicament, pretty much out of nothing, and marks the only worthwhile aspect of this dross.

Panic Room it ain’t, and Jodie Foster she ain’t. Yet.

Savages

A return to the pulp sleaze of U-Turn from recently lamentable and dull Oliver Stone would be cause for celebration, had Killing Them Softly and Lawless not pulled the rug from under his feet and shown how far the genre has come while he has been making sequels and diluted politico cinema.

He’s got a great cast on board for this labyrinthine drug saga, which sees two small-timers facing off against a big league drug cartel who have kidnapped their girlfriend. Yes you read that right. Their.

It’s fun and diverting, but there’s a rigidity there that makes a lot of it feel forced and over-egged.

It should have seen Stone throw off the shackles and run riot, but he holds back, and the result is never more than mediocre.