Two low-life morons (Aussie tool Ben Mendelsohn, and Scoot McNairy) team up with a low-level crim and Laundromat owner (Vincent Curatola) to rob a secret mob poker game run by Markie (Ray Liotta). Markie has been accused of robbing the game himself before (and rightly so), so they figure it’s easy money and the unfortunate Markie will make for a perfect patsy. In spite of their own idiocy they manage to pull the job off and go their separate ways. Richard Jenkins plays a nerdy-looking middle-man in the mob who looks like an accountant and who hires expert hit-man Brad Pitt to clean this situation up once it becomes pretty clear that Markie didn’t do it, but these two idiot losers. However, Pitt even goes after Markie to appease the disgruntled card players, whether he’s actually guilty this time or not. Pitt, as the title suggests, likes to kill his targets from a distance, without them even knowing he’s there. Basically, he would’ve hated being the guy sent to whack John Turturro in “Miller’s Crossing”. A tired-looking James Gandolfini plays a formerly efficient hit man Pitt calls in to do the up-close work. Unfortunately, this guy has now gone to waste in some kind of pathetic midlife depression/drunken stupor that makes him practically useless. Sam Shepard has a strangely miniscule role as the mob boss (Did most of his scenes get cut?)
Written and directed by Aussie Andrew Dominik and based on a book by George V. Higgins, this 2012 crime flick with occasional moments of hilarity is very near a bullseye. In fact, it might just be the best Coen Brothers movie that the Coen Brothers never made, and is certainly leaps and bounds ahead of the slightly similar, but irritating and overrated “Fargo” (The film is somewhere in between “Fargo” and the 70s Robert Mitchum caper “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” which was based on a Higgins novel). Brad Pitt is OK as the top hit-man, but much more enjoyable are the downright hilarious Ben Mendelsohn (love the dish-washing gloves for a bank robbery), a perfectly-cast Ray Liotta (as a loser scapegoat, basically), and a sad and erratic James Gandolfini (one of his last roles). Mendelsohn brings a brilliant touch of dumb arse Aussie bogan to his drugged-out idiot crim role, and the tiny dog is just icing on the cake. Scoot McNairy also deserves praise as the ‘other’ dumb arse crim, easily the best work the actor has done to date.
I also liked the working class New Orleans scenery (post-Katrina), kind of a character unto itself, in a film full of fascinating, if wholly unlikeable characters (The book was set in Boston, however, and that actually might’ve been even better). It’s a good-looking and interesting film that gets more serious (and possibly slower) in the second half, but I wouldn’t say that one’s interest wanes to any great degree for the tonal shift.
The film tacks on a bunch of news statements by US Presidents Obama and Dubya about America’s financial woes, and apparently the connection to the characters in the film is there, but on first watch I found the connection tenuous at best, and overall thought the device was frankly rather expendable (and not featured in the original 1974 novel of course, the film being reset in 2008) in an otherwise really strong, really enjoyable crime-caper. Yes, the final speech by Pitt does spell it out somewhat, but it’s one helluva long bow on my first viewing. Maybe multiple viewings are in order to give the film additional resonance, I dunno, I just felt the film worked well enough as a crime caper that it didn’t also need to be a political allegory on top of that. I don’t think I missed the point of it exactly, just the necessity of that point being made in that way. This minor issue aside, it’s definitely one of the best films of the year, if not quite on par with Dominik’s earlier films “Chopper” (which also mixed crime and black humour) and especially the vastly underrated “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford”. Check out those opening credits too, which, intentional or not, are hilarious. Accompanied by discordant music, they’re like something out of “The Shining” and very strange.