Monday, December 3, 2012

The Central Park Five, Killing Them Softly

The Central Park Five
Killing Them Softly

Ken Burns co-directed the documentary "The Central Park Five" with his daughter, Sarah, who had clerked at a law firm representing the five black boys wrongly convicted in 1989 of the rape and attempted murder of the Central Park Jogger, Trisha Mieli. Burns interviews the five men (four via video, one only on
audiotape), now free and in their late thirties, and their candor and strength of character are the film's greatest assets. Its weaknesses are overlength married with a lack of detail and specificity (it doesn't seem to understand exactly who was doing what where in the park that night any better than the trial jurors). What could have been a study in poor procedure à la Errol Morris' "The Thin Blue Line" remains vague and blurry. And the issues raised by the boys' confessions under duress were examined more rigorously and powerfully by a documentary from earlier this year entitled "Scenes of a Crime."

The average CinemaScore audience grade of "F" seems unduly harsh for the lean and likable, if occasionally slow, "Killing Them Softly," a modern noir vaguely redolent of good John Dahl. There's some crackling dialogue and a couple of lovely, Tarantinoesque set pieces in this tale of dumb wise guys who heist an illegal poker game for the second time, knowing that the guy who runs the game (a fleshy and beaten-up/down Ray Liotta) drunkenly admitted he set up the first hit. And Brad Pitt has a few hilarious exchanges with Richard Jenkins and, separately, James Gandolfini (as a freelance hit man who, unlike Pitt, is willing to kill his marks hard - i.e., up close). I really admire the way Liotta puts himself out there, warts and all, in this picture (heck, I liked him back in "Unlawful Entry"), and you'll never hear "The Man Comes Around" the same way again.

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