I want to start by saying Roger Ebert is one of the reasons I learned to love film and became a film critic.
After I’ve finished a review my usual next step is to read his review of the same film. Sometimes I find a nuance that I overlooked. My review may or may not agree with his, and neither of us are right or wrong, criticism of film is opinion-based. But I was so shocked by his review of the recent Killing Them Softly that I felt compelled to point out that he really blew this one.
Some of what he wrote (read it in its entirety here) follows, with my comments in italics:
“One night the game is hit by two hooded stick-up men, who make off with a big pile of mob money.”
This is accurate.
“The job was pulled off by insignificant crooks Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), and since it happens near the beginning of the film, we know instinctively that Russell and Johnny aren’t going to be around at the end.”
This is wrong. Very wrong. Russell, Johnny (known in the film as “Squirrel”) and Frankie (Scott McNairy) had no involvement with the first robbery at all. Squirrel’s plan is to rob Markie’s game now that Markie has been forgiven and is back in operation. The idea is that the mob will pin the blame on Markie and the robbers will get off scott-free. Ebert was way off.
“A high-level mob boss named Mickey (James Gandolfini) arrives in town, hauling his in-flight luggage through the airport like a traveling businessman. He orders the executions of Russell and Johnny by a silky hit man named Jackie (Brad Pitt), who likes to kill softly, as explained by one of the many aging classic songs on the soundtrack”
1. Mickey is not the boss of anything. He’s an aging hit-man brought in by Jackie because Jackie knows Squirrel and is afraid that might create a problem in killing him.
2. Mickey is working for the mobsters who hired Jackie and is under his supervision, not vice versa.
3. In the end, Mickey has no role in anything else that happens of substance, save an interesting sequence involving Mickey, Jackie and a hooker in Mickey’s hotel room.
“As the body count grows, we meet Driver (Richard Jenkins), a gravel-voiced chief executive who appears often behind the wheel of a car parked in the wastelands beneath bridges.”
Driver isn’t the chief of anything. He’s a messenger boy, who delivers orders from the unseen mob bosses to Jackie, as he did to Jackie’s predecessor Dillon. If he were the boss of anything, he’d have been able to decide if Jackie was right about just killing Markie right away rather than beating him first. He wasn’t.
A cast is assembled from various flavors of tough guys, they’re placed in a dreary and joyless cityscape, they hold a series of fraught conversations, there is a great deal of suffering and blood, and most of them are required to die by the end.
Tough guys? Jackie is a tough guy. Driver is a mealy-mouthed messenger boy. Markie is a wimp who doesn’t fight back when he’s getting a beat-down, he just keeps protesting that he’s innocent. Hardly tough. Frankie is a wimp. Russell might be tough during a robbery but away from that type of situation, he’s a drug-addled moron. Squirrel isn’t tough enough to even get involved in his own robbery scheme. He’s a dry-cleaner. Mickey may have been a tough guy but now all he’s interested in is easy money, drinking and hookers. I doubt he could have even carried out the hit he was brought in to do. The two guys who beat Markie are tough. So there were four flavors of tough guy if you count Dillon. Nowhere near enough to deserve Ebert’s description. Again, only three people died for the sin of robbing the card game (Dillon’s death is unrelated to that event).
After examining Ebert’s review, one has to wonder, did he even watch this movie? Or did he see the trailers, read the press kit, and having perhaps read the original novel, formulate a factually inaccurate review? Either way, the glaring plot and character errors needed to be addressed.