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Killing Them Softly

THE sub-economy of crime is a too-obvious symbol of capitalism in Andrew Dominik's followup to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

It's worth watching anyway.

Set in a nameless, depressed city (it was shot in New Orleans), the story kicks off when a couple of dopey small-time hoods are assigned the task of knocking over a Mob poker game. It's a very dangerous job but the reasoning is they should be able to escape reprisal because the affable guy who runs the game, Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), is known to have been the brains behind a previous robbery of his own operation. Suspicion will naturally fall on him.

Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is the hit man obliged to straighten things out, arguing that, guilty or innocent, Trattman must be taken out to preserve the appearance of the Mob's stability. (Jackie is too hard-boiled to use the word "optics" but he does know how Mob justice not only must be done, but must be seen to be done.) He is also intent on seeking out the other criminal lowlifes responsible, including the hard-luck heist artist Frankie (Scoot McNairy, one to watch), dissipated Aussie drug addict Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) and a pathetically under-qualified would-be crime lord/dry cleaner (Vincent Curatola). For such a big job, Jackie recruits a New York killer named Mickey (James Gandolfini), who arrives in full-blown life crisis and ends up giving Jackie another entry on his list of things to do.

All this happens concurrent with the economic meltdown of 2008, and Dominik restlessly cross-cuts between the Mob stuff and talking heads on TV: Obama/Bush/McCain, guys who, while a lot less retributive, were no less resolved to take care of business.

The movie is an adaptation of a novel by George V. Higgins (The Friends of Eddie Coyle) and therein lies its most significant appeal. Higgins was a master of hoodlum dialogue, and Dominik does a stellar job of interpreting the cagey/menacing/funny give-and-take for the screen. Many were doubtless disappointed that a nominal crime thriller would have such sparse (yet high-impact) violence. But when Jackie sits down in a deserted airport lounge with Mickey, or browbeats Frankie in a crummy watering hole, that's where the movie's best sparks fly. 'Ö'Ö'Ö/12


THE peculiar genius of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln is that it exalts an individual's ability for great achievement in the political arena and simultaneously confirms our worst suspicions about how dirty that arena can get.

This is a relief. The anticipated big-screen treatment of Abraham Lincoln would be one of those sunbeam-y film biopic deifications Hollywood usually reserves for Jesus Christ.

It helps immeasurably that Spielberg cast Daniel Day-Lewis for his Oscar-winning turn as a not-entirely-honest Abe, reasoning that the notoriously immersive actor could flesh out the role and vitalize the 16th president's troubled life. Lincoln is already a big stone monument in Washington, D.C., and he doesn't need to be monumentalized here.

Hence, the screenplay focuses on the last four months of the president's life, as he strove to end the Civil War after four years of slaughter, and simultaneously abolish slavery by passing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Screenwriter Tony Kushner emphasizes Lincoln's mastery of the political process, especially treacherous turf in 1865. On one side, the Democrats are opposed to the abolition of slavery on both racist and pragmatic grounds. It could play havoc with the economy. On the other hand, the "radical Republican" congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) thinks the 13th Amendment doesn't go far enough to guarantee full rights to freed slaves.

To win the necessary number of votes, Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) dispatches a trio of agents (John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson and an especially hilarious James Spader) to bribe and cajole a selection of malleable opponents into helping pass the amendment.

While Lincoln was hardly an Everyman, the film does create a ping of weird familiarity to anyone who has ever faced difficulty balancing the personal and professional halves of life, a testament to Day-Lewis's ability to find Lincoln's humanity.

More importantly, the film resonates as a timely political parable of how great things are possible in politics, given intelligent applications of craft, compromise and consensus. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

From Beyond (Collector's Edition)

DIRECTOR Stuart Gordon made a name for himself in the horror genre with his hilarious/disgusting Re-Animator (1985), while his 1986 followup, From Beyond was largely forgotten.

It's understandable. Though it stars Re-Animator vets Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, this second H.P. Lovecraaft adaptation was more serious (though no less kinky), following a pair of scientists in an investigation of an experiment run amok, a "resonator" that opens up a portal to a dimension of monsters.

This collector's edition Blu-ray has a few entertaining extras, including an interview with Crampton discussing how they filmed the movie's more outré moments.

Too bad, the film's slimy, latex-y special effects don't hold up and truth be told, it's just plain dull next to Re-Animator's blood-drenched farce.

For Gordon's most faithful adaptation of Lovecraft yet, check out Dagon, made in 2001. 'Ö'Ö'Ö

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 28, 2013 C14

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