Mud & Killing Them Softly: The Lost Reviews of Cannes

The line for “Killing Them Softly.” But was it worth the wait?

While at Cannes, I watched “Killing Them Softly” and “Mud.” However, I never got to publish reviews of them. Here they are now.

Killing Them Softly

 When Brad Pitt is in your movie, you are bound to get plenty of attention from the French.

“Killing Them Softly” surfaced with some bad early buzz but received favorable reviews when it actually opened. I compare it to “Lawless” simply for the reason that they are both gangster films. “Lawless” has the makings of a minor American classic. It goes for something a little more old fashioned, yet very refreshing. “Killing Them Softly” goes for brutal and meditative, and gets halfway there.

Here is a film that has a standout script, but doesn’t bring its characters anywhere. The dialogue is detailed and familiar-sounding enough that it mimics real conversation. The banter between Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) gives “Killing Them Softly” a nice, humorous heart. While Brad Pitt is the selling point, McNairy and Mendelsohn are the film’s true stars.

That is not to insult Mr. Pitt’s role at all. Many people were unimpressed by his performance, but he did everything right as a very professional hitman. “Killing Them Softly” felt like a knockoff “No Country for Old Men” morality tale, with Pitt’s Jackie Cogan substituting for Anton Chigurh. Like Chigurh, he has an calculated and mysterious air to him. Unlike Chigurh, his moral compass is less fascinating and less defined. Without giving too much away, the title refers to Cogan’s standard of killing his victim from far enough away so as not to become emotionally attached. Strangely though, Cogan kills many people up close, and that doesn’t seem to change him in any way, shape, or form.

I’m Brad Pitt, and you’re not.

The story of “Killing Them Softly” is quite simple: it is about a hit being pulled off. And if you follow that brief premise, it delivers on that exactly. “Killing Them Softly” was directed by Andrew Dominik of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” fame. “Killing Them Softly” replaces the open spaces of the west for the confined, gritty backdrop of New Orleans. What “Jesse James” has in silence, “Killing Them Softly” has in dialogue.

“Jesse James” ran over two and a half hours long. It is said that an original cut of “Killing Them Softly” is about the same length. I would very much like to see this version, as what was shown at Cannes felt like a summed up version of a much better movie. I’d like to see how much more depth, and what new directions, Dominik had intended for the characters. I’d like more scenes with Frankie and Russell, and more with the Bukowski-type Mickey (James Gandolfini), who has some of the film’s most entertaining scenes.

I admire “Killing Them Softly” for its ambition. The film takes place during the 2008 presidential election, and uses this event as a means of criticizing the greed of American capitalism. It seems to exist in a world of many Gordon Gekkos. I am not sure if Dominik’s point totally came through, but I believe a second viewing, and a longer running time, might clear some things up. I will say this though: the final line of “Killing Them Softly” will end up on an AFI Top 100 list one day.

After the Jump: Mud


When at Cannes, the distinction between American movies and movies from foreign countries becomes more and more apparent. Even the best of American cinema can succumb to trying to wrap dark little stories up in a pretty, Disney-colored bow. That is the Achilles heal of “Mud.”

First, let me be clear: I did not hate “Mud.” In fact, I liked it very much, and I recommend you see it when it comes out. Had I first viewed “Mud” during its actual theatrical release, I probably would have liked it much more. It makes most American movies look bad. But when paired up against the fare at Cannes, it looks a little trite. This is why no matter how hard you try, being a film critic can never be an objective job. If someone tells you otherwise, answer by saying, “shut up, Peter Travers!”

“Mud! Mud come back!” -Someone who misquotes movies a lot.

But I digress. “Mud” is yet another major American release at Cannes that took place in the South (“Moonrise Kingdom” might have been the only one that wasn’t). And it is the third release of 2012 in which Matthew McConaughey turns on his southern swag*. McConaughey plays the titular Mud, a runaway and a hopeless romantic living deep in the Arkansas woods. Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) is the object of his affection. The young Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are taken under his quiet, charismatic spell.

“Mud” is directed by Jeff Nichols. Nichols previously directed “Take Shelter,” which I have yet to see, but I hear that it is excellent. Nichols has a very restrained style of directing that lets the story, and not the style, shine. As Mud, McConaughey plays a character who seems to be a legend unfolding in every frame. Watching him, I was somewhat reminded of Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke.” Not to say that McConaughey is on Newman’s level, but they both had that same, relatable rebellious spirit.

Where “Mud” went wrong for me was in its ending. Maybe I’m just being a tin man, but I didn’t feel myself getting overwhelmed with emotion by the finale. The movie spent a lot of time trying to turn Mud into this mythical character and in the end, he feels nothing like that. What at first feels very satisfying in the end feels like nothing more than comfort food. Also, “Mud” suffers from the very easy to catch Multiple Ending Syndrome.

I would like to reiterate once more that “Mud” is a very likable movie. It feels a bit like a “Tom Sawyer” or “Huck Finn” type adventure, but a lot more family friendly (and by that I mean, a lot less racial slurs).

*Remind me never to use this word in any sentence ever again.