Writer-director Andrew Dominik created a hard-boiled gangster movie in "Killing Them Softly." It owes much to the work of the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino. It's filled with constant tension offset by the sort of cerebral dialogue and strange humor seen in "Pulp Fiction" and "Fargo."
The story starts with small-time crooks looking for a bigger caper. They pull off a foolish amateur robbery of a mob-protected poker game. Their success makes them very hunted men. Brad Pitt is pitch-perfect as the no-nonsense hitman hired to find and execute the robbers.
His cool logical approach stands in stark contrast to the clumsy antics of the perpetrators. Ray Liotta and James Gandolfini add appropriate mobster credentials to the cast. But lesser-known actor Scoot McNairy steals the show as Frankie, the reluctant participant in the heist. He knows his fate is sealed by his participation.
The well-worn plot plays out with the expected brutal episodes. But the hard action is spaced between many talky interludes. The intelligent conversation may appeal to movie critics, but it might disappoint younger males looking for more gunfights and less chat.
The Master up close
He's been called the Master of Suspense — who doesn't know the name "Hitchcock"?
This new movie about the legendary director begins in 1959, when he became inspired to make the movie "Psycho."
Bored with the "sleeping pills with dust jackets" he's been reading, Hitch finds a fresh challenge with the book "Psycho" about a real-life serial killer. His efforts to get the project funded (ultimately using his own money), cast and marketed makes for some amusing and ingenious scenes.
Anthony Hopkins plays Hitchcock as the man we think we know — portly and eccentric, with a droll sense of humor. It's a good portrayal as far as it goes, but the real man had a darker side that is glossed over here. His devotion to talented screenwriter Alma Reville is authentic, as was Hitch's reliance on Alma's impeccable creative instincts. They were partners in every sense.
As Alma, Helen Mirren conveys a keen, no-nonsense intelligence and loyalty, and her frustrations at being in the shadow of a genius are deeply felt. She's a little too glamorous here, but then again — it's Helen Mirren.
"Hitchcock" is well-made: more fluff than fact, but an affectionate homage to a master of modern cinema.
JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.