Posted: March 29, 2013 at 4:12 a.m.
Killing Them Softly Andrew Dominik (R, 97 minutes)
The trailers and advertisements for crime caper Killing Them Softly are incredibly eye-catching, as are the faces in them - Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini (bringing along all his bad-boy Sopranos baggage and adding a hint of hysteria). But by the time it was released in theaters (Nov. 30), there was so much Christmas stuff going on, along with so many other movie releases, that I let the film slip past me.
Maybe you did too. Now that the new year has settled in, you can plop down on the couch, faraway from all that shopping and those seasonal parties, to watch the violence intermingle with philosophical discourse on Blu-ray.
Here’s the story, based on the 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins and mostly set in economically challenged 2008 New Orleans: Two dumb guys who think they’re smart (a common problem for criminals) rob a card game protected by mobsters, causing the local criminal hierarchy to suffer a major financial setback. Jackie Cogan (Pitt) is an enforcer hired to track down the dopes and restore order to the outraged citizenry of the criminal society. His businesslike mob contact is Driver (Jenkins). Mickey (Gandolfini) is a high-ranking mob assassin,called in to do what he does best, although he’s not doing it so well any more as his grip on reality is getting shaky.
The lurching pace of the production - lengthy interludes of chatty character development mixed in unpredictable proportions with maxi-violence - may not suit those who prefer their action thrillers to be of the nonstop variety. That shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying fine performances by Pitt, Gandolfini and Jenkins, certainly one of the most compelling actors of this era.
“The dialogue is sharp and so are the performances,” says critic Peter Rainer in the Christian Science Monitor. “Andrew Dominik directed this neo-noir in a low-key comic style that’s alternately gritty and fancy. The gritty stuff is best.”
With Sam Rockwell, Ray Liotta; directed by Andrew Dominik.
Lincoln (PG-13, 150 minutes) In a nation divided by the Civil War and uncertainty about its outcome, President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) pursues a course of action he hopes will unite the country and abolish slavery. But, like his contemporaries, he can’t get much done without the support of Congress, which is split along party lines. “The Lincoln who emerges from this story is not an unyielding champion of justice, but a master politician,” says our critic Dan Lybarger. “In the film, you’ll catch Honest Abe hedging and even lying, albeit always for the greater good.” With Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Jackie Earle Haley, Joseph Gordon-Levitt; directed by Steven Spielberg with a witty, intelligent screenplay written by Tony Kushner (Angels in America).
A Royal Affair (R, 137 minutes) A Royal Affair strives mightily to replicate the sumptuousness of definitive costume dramas such as 1994’s The Madness of King George and 2005’s Pride & Prejudice. Although it doesn’t quite reach the luxurious levels attained by those films, this Danish production has something many period pieces don’t: An intriguing storythat not many have heard before.
Based on historical events, the film chronicles the arrival of the Enlightenment in18th-century Denmark via books and concepts promoted by French philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau, smuggled into the conservative country by German physician Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen). In the course of caring for mentally unstable Danish king Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), he shares with young queen Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) his ideas about social reform, as well as more intimate subjects - an exhilarating adventure for them, but you can pretty much figure out how it’s going to turn out.
From my review of the film’s theatrical release: “Mikkelson, all cheekbones and hauteur, keeps his performance under taut control, allowing the audience to build a relationship with his character - who quickly becomes the king’s trusted confidante - without letting them know too much about what makes him tick.”
Late Bloomers (unrated, 95 minutes) The inevitable process of aging isn’t suiting high-functioning London couple Mary (Isabella Rossellini) and Adam (William Hurt), who have been married for 30 years. In this well-performed yet uneven romantic comedy directed by Julie Gavras, Adam’s reaction is to go into denial as he desperately looks for a fountain of youth. Mary copes by choosing to take care of everyone. With such drastically different approaches, conflict is inevitable. “Ultimately, it’s not distinctive enough to draw viewers who haven’t given much thought to aging,” says NPR critic Mark Jenkins. “But that still leaves a substantial audience for the film’s gentle laughs and modest insights.”
MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 03/29/2013