If you’ve logged on this week, you may have heard that Brad Pitt’s Killing Them Softly is a huge blunder, roundly rejected by audiences both in terms of box office profits and word-of-mouth. It’s not enough that the compact, dark gangster slow-burn recession story, with Pitt as a hit man cleaning up after an inside job, only made $7 million. But Cinemascore, the official audience grading sheet, gave it an “F” grade. Not a “C” or a “D.” An “F.” Failure. They hated it. The people have spoken.
But I think Pitt and filmmaker Andrew Dominik, along with distributor The Weinstein Company, should take that F and hold it high, proudly. As the box office is already evenly divided between the teens for Breaking Dawn, the smart action of Skyfall, refined craft and sophistication of Lincoln, and the feel-good romance in Silver Linings Playbook, it’s not surprising that Killing Them Softly shouldn’t make a dent. The previous collaboration between Pitt and Dominik, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, was also plagued by bad buzz and, despite some good reviews, couldn’t catch fire. For me, that Western was one of 2007′s great American films along with No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Dominik made an achingly melancholic epic of identities fractured by myths and performative expectations. Heavily inspired by Terrence Malick (before The Tree of Life‘s divisiveness made Malick a hot topic again), Jesse James was probably too good to succeed in the mainstream, but too big for the art-houses. Killing Them Softly has the same fate.