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Entries in Ray Liotta (2)


Killing Them Softly

At first glance, Killing Them Softly looks like a typical gangster movie; big scary guys played by typecast actors like James Gandolfini run around with guns murdering those that have wronged them. Although some of the greatest movies of all time have followed that formula, to write this off as something so simplistic would be a disservice to what it actually is: a satire. Killing Them Softly isn’t always successful in what it’s trying to say, or even clear, but it’s always interesting. Even if you can’t decipher the meaning behind it, of which there will be wildly different analyses, the story is interesting enough to keep you entertained throughout its surprisingly short 97 minute runtime.

Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) is a local mob man. He runs an underground gambling ring where many of the area’s heaviest hitters gather together to put their money on the line. With so much money floating around, however, it’s only a matter of time before someone attempts to stick them up. Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) decide to do just that, hoping Markie will take the fall for one of his earlier transgressions. The local criminal organizations who take part in this game are obviously unhappy about what happened and employ Jackie (Brad Pitt) to find the culprits and take them out.

Where the satire comes in is its setting: 2008, during the McCain/Obama elections when the economy collapsed and the country found itself in a dire situation. In lieu of ambient music to heighten tension, many of the film’s scenes are punctuated with radio stations and television screens lingering on political pundits and speeches that are emphasizing the new financial panic we found ourselves in and how they wouldn’t let the prosperity of the few hurt the majority, all while robberies and murders of monetary purposes take place right in front of us. While the correlation between the real world economy and the fictional onscreen criminal economy are obvious, the emphasis behind it isn’t. If the film is trying to make a direct comparison between the two, it’s diluted with a skewed focus. After all, when our economy collapsed, it was the guilty stealing from the innocent, which resulted in vast numbers of people losing the majority, or all, of their lifetime savings. In the movie, it’s the guilty stealing from the guilty, which isn’t quite the same.

Yet I feel like the correlation is deeper than that. Speeches about how we need to take action to protect our economy play in the background as the gangsters in the film attempt to do the same to their own, but the gangsters aren’t necessarily protecting the overall flow of money. They’re more worried about their own well-being and their actions are motivated by personal gain. In 2008, when one of the most important elections our nation has ever had was on the horizon, the financial collapse led to presidential talking points, to agenda pushing, all so someone could become the next President of the United States. The film isn’t necessarily saying McCain and Obama didn’t mean well—both clearly wanted what they thought was best for this country—it’s just pointing out that their actions weren’t without selfish reasons.

All of this coming from a seemingly simple gangster movie is incredible to think about. Never before has there been such an effective mobster satire, if only because mobster satires are few and far between, though that no less diminishes the care put behind it. Killing Them Softly is both exciting and darkly humorous. It sometimes feels like it’s trying too hard to get you to root for certain characters—Jackie is as likable of a murdering gangster as you could possibly create, who even insists on tipping his waitress at a local coffee shop to help her get by during such hard times, but he’s hardly someone to root for—and a feeling of cynicism pervades its entirety (when one character calls Jackie “a cynical bastard,” you can’t help but feel like he’s personifying the movie itself through the character), but it’s that cynicism that gives the film its edge. Perhaps it’s Jackie’s final monologue that hits the hardest, as he discusses how even the most noblest of acts throughout history have been about greed and power: “America is a business,” he says, “now give me my fucking money.”

Killing Them Softly receives 4/5


Youth in Revolt

I should have known better. Everybody knows that January is dump month, the month of the year where movie studios release the films they have no faith in. After the holidays, where they release the films they think could be big money grabbers or Oscar contenders, theatrical attendance generally goes down a bit. So instead of releasing something of quality, they take whatever they have lying around and plop it here just so they will have something on screens nationwide while they await their next big blockbuster. Despite this, Youth in Revolt looked promising. The trailers were amusing and seemed like only a glimpse at an overall better, raunchier, funnier movie, but naturally, that isn't the case. Youth in Revolt is quite bad and Michael Cera's relatively impressive filmography is now on a running streak of two bad movies in a row with the inclusion of the wretched Year One released earlier this year. Perhaps his usual brand of awkward humor is beginning to wear thin.

The film follows Nick Twisp (Cera), the typical nerdy, virgin teen that usually crops up in these types of pictures. He lives with his mother (Jean Smart) and her boy toy whom he hates named Jerry (Zach Galifianakis). After three Navy men come around to lay the beat down on Jerry, they pack up and take a road trip to a camper site where Nick meets the love of his life, Sheeni (Portia Doubleday). His overwhelming emotions get the best of him and in his desire to win her over, he creates a supplementary persona whom he dubs Francois (also played by Michael Cera), the suave, uncaring, foul mouthed side of him who says what's on his mind and does what he wants. Unfortunately, Nick has to leave the camper site and Sheeni behind, so he comes up with a master plan. He will do terrible things and make his mother's life miserable. This way, she will kick him out and he will have to live with his father (Steve Buscemi) who lives near Sheeni. After blowing up a store with the help of his alternate personality, he gets his wish, but the cops are now looking for him as well.

Youth in Revolt is one mess of an unfunny movie, in large part due to the creepy nature of Francois and the questionable mental state of Nick. The crutch of the film is his split personality, but Francois comes off more as a child predator than he does the cool bad ass side of Nick. Essentially, Nick is talking to himself in the scenes with Francois and forces himself to do things he doesn't want to do. He's mentally unstable, sick of his repressed, secluded self and growing weary of his mother's sluttiness that his kind, gentle demeanor is overtaken by the power of Francois. His brain is so diluted with the foolish thought that he simply can't go on being a virgin (because no 16 year old anywhere is still a virgin) that he basically snaps. This is a guy we're supposed to root for, but I found myself more inclined to root for the police so he could get the proper psychiatric treatments he so desperately needed.

Though it does offer up a few laughs here and there, roughly half are in the trailer (equaling out to about seven or eight total) and they're better edited in it than the actual picture. Similar to the overrated Fantastic Mr. Fox, Youth in Revolt takes a funny joke that was edited with terrific comedic timing in the trailer and adds in an extra shot or two that throws the whole punchline off track. It just goes to show how important editing is. You can have the funniest joke ever on paper, but if it doesn't come across pitch perfect in the movie, it loses its impact.

Michael Cera, though undeniably likable and charming, has more or less played the same character in every movie, including this one. His awkward, nerdy physique and sarcastic humor are intact in Youth in Revolt, but it's old at this point. While Francois is a departure from his usual performance, he is underutilized, only showing up in a handful of scenes, only one of which is funny in the slightest.

I'm not quick to point the finger at anybody in particular when it comes to the failings of Youth in Revolt. The actors do a capable job, the direction is fine and the writing was decent enough, but "capable," "fine," and "decent" aren't exactly impassioned adjectives. The whole affair just seems lazy, with nobody doing anything too awful, but nobody on the opposite end picking up the slack either. The new year is off to a poor start indeed.

Youth in Revolt receives 1.5/5