(On Cable TV, November 2015) Alas, Violet & Daisy has more potential than actual success. Taking place in a world with a clearly-defined criminal ecosystem that includes rates assassins, this is a film about two bubble-gum-popping teenagers working as killers, making money to splurge on the latest celebrity fashion. Their lives, however, are put in question when they take on a contract on a man (James Gandolfini, sympathetic enough in one of his last roles) who seems curiously amenable to their deadly plans, going as far as making things as easy and comfortable for them as possible. Writer/director/producer Geoffrey S. Fletcher clearly has quirkiness in mind in executing his film, but the result seems curiously tame and unbelievable at the same time, not taking enough chances to be interesting. (Comparisons with John Wick, which also indulged in a comic-book universe of codified contract killers, are instructive.) It speaks volumes that, mere weeks after seeing the film, I can’t remember much of the conclusion or even anything beyond the first thirty minutes: It doesn’t help that after a machine-gun opening, the film settles down in an apartment and that even the subsequent gunfights can’t do much to go beyond the talky theater piece that the film becomes. Reflecting the hit-and-miss script, Saoirse Ronan and Alexis Bledel don’t get to show much depth as the talkative teenagers seemingly wrestling with questions of morality and life goals. While Violet & Daisy is amiable enough to be worth an unassuming look, there’s a tangible feeling that something is missing from the result –more exploitation, more depth, more craziness or more realism, but definitely something to take it out of its untenable middle-ground.
(On Cable TV, February 2014) While Killing Them Softly has the admirable ambition of using a crime story to tackle much-bigger social and economic themes, it looks as if, along the way, it has forgotten to entertain viewers on a minute-to-minute basis. Adapted from a seventies crime novel but updated to be set in the middle of fall 2008’s presidential/economic crisis, it’s a film that attempts to make parallels between low-level mob desperation and wider social problems. As such, it’s got a lot more ambition than most other crime thrillers out there. It all culminates into a tough but compelling final scene, in which America is unmasked as a business far more than a community, and in which getting paid is the ultimate arbitrator of fairness. Stylistically, Killing Them Softly has a few strong moments, perhaps the most being a slow-motion bullet execution. Alas; it’s so kinetically entertaining as to be atonal with the rest of the film, which takes forever to makes simple points and delights into long extended conversations in-between bursts of violence. Still, Brad Pitt is pretty good as a mob enforcer trying to keep his hands clean (it’s another reminder that he can act, and is willing to do so in low-budgeted features once in a while), while James Gandolfini has a one-scene role as a hit-man made ineffective by his own indulgences. Richard Jenkins also has an intriguing role as a corporate-minded mob middle-man in-between men of violence. Otherwise, though, Killing Them Softly‘s tepid rhythm kills most of its interest: Despite writer/director Andrew Dominik’s skills and lofty intent, the film feels too dull to benefit from its qualities.