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Stream This: Time to realize 'Killing Them Softly' is pretty great

Brad Pitt makes a lot of terrific films moviegoers initially dislike. Here's another.

‘Killing Them Softly’
Netflix Instant

There ought to be a category on Netflix Instant called “Great Brad Pitt Movies Everyone Used to Hate.” There are definitely enough of them, two made with Australian director Andrew Dominik. The two first collaborated on “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” which was dumped and ignored by everyone but a couple handfuls of critics. They reunited anyway for this grimy pulp-a-thon, with Pitt as a greasy-haired, no-nonsense enforcer trying to clean up the mess of a mobster robbery. Too bleak-o-rama for the mainstream, it was dissed by critics, who dwelled on the admittedly not very subtle use of Barack Obama’s election as backdrop and sometimes literal commentary.

Not enough noticed that, this flaw aside, it’s peerlessly grizzled — as detached, unforgiving and gabby as the source novel (called "Cogan's Trade") by George V. Higgins, pulp’s starkest poet. Higgins’ novels (like "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," also made into a harrowing film) suck all of the glamour and cool out of crime, portraying it as the world’s deadliest blue-collar job. It’s a comically hopeless film, where the nicest people —like Ray Liotta’s innocent fall guy —pay dearly, and the worst are still just trying to get by. It’s also a hotbed of great performances, including from Pitt and Scott McNairy. Best of all are the two scenes owned by James Gandolfini, playing a hedonistic assassin too far gone to even leave the hotel room and do his job. He storms into the picture, downs martinis and pesters hookers, then exits soon as he came in. As in real life, he leaves a mark.

‘Beware of Mr. Baker’
Netflix Instant
Jack Bruce, one third of super trio Cream, passed away this weekend. Apart from blasting “Wheels of Fire” loud as your speakers can go, one way of celebrating his work would be queuing up this blistering documentary profile of the band’s most volatile member: drummer and persistent rabid dog Ginger Baker. Though found living poor on an African farm, the hellion hasn’t chilled; he begins the film by bashing the director in the face with his cane. The film then hops back to see him pissing off everyone he met — while creating great music, of course, including helping to popularize Fela Kuti in the West.

‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’
Netflix Instant

There are always plenty of diamonds in the rough buried deep within the confines of Netflix Instant. But surely everyone’s playing with the big jewel lurking in plain sight: the second “Hunger Games” is new to Instant, conveniently unveiled a month before its third entry hits multiplexes. Maybe now that doozy of a cliffhanger won’t seem so cruel.

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Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter@mattprigge

 
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