Killing Them Softly

Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini

R |

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THRILLER

When the economy tanks, everybody suffers, criminals included. In his bleak, darkly comic gangster drama, director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) chronicles mobsters who are desperate to keep their coffers full while Wall Street is on the brink of collapse. Even hit men have to offer their services at bargain-basement prices, $15,000 a whack. But lowlifes Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) and Frankie (Scoot McNairy) think they have a foolproof scheme to stay flush: robbing a high-stakes poker game and pinning trusted insider Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) as the scapegoat. Enter Jackie Cogan (Pitt), who is hired to snuff the thieves. Killing Them Softly is a smart, gripping update of classic Mob fare-it's a hoot to see James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) and Liotta (Goodfellas) playing vulnerable crooks instead of kingpins-and the stylized effects totally rule, especially one execution scene that's both stunning and horrifying. But by setting this tale amid America's economic collapse-audio of George W. Bush and Barack Obama trying to reassure the country adds another layer of anxiety-Dominik offers revelations to disturb even the most upstanding taxpayer. As Pitt's character warns, even with bailouts, "you're on your own."

Rust and Bone

Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts | R |

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DRAMA

Sometimes what draws people together is raw need. Stephanie (Cotillard), an orca trainer, loses her legs in an accident that reminds you how fickle fate can be. Ali (Schoenaerts) is an aspiring boxer with a young son, Sam (Armand Verdure), whom he barely notices. Why are they together? In short, because Ali is a lunkhead. Devoid of tenderness, he sees Stephanie as just another sexually available woman, which suits her fine. Brutal frankness is Rust and Bone's strong suit as it captures-but never questions-this unlikely relationship. Schoenaerts does terrific work, but expect Cotillard to nab the Oscar nod for her rough-hewn take on a woman literally cut off from herself but grasping at life anyway-even if it looks nothing like the one she pictured.

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A ROYAL AFFAIR

1 Love palace intrigue? This wild tale of royalty and insanity is true. Queen Caroline (Alicia Vikander), married to mentally unstable Danish King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) in the 18th century, carries on an affair of the heart-and mind-with his doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen).

2 Denmark's Oscar entry is superbly acted by Vikander and Mikkelsen as lovers trying to modernize the country and outwit cutthroat courtiers. Folsgaard's study in madness is heartbreaking.

3 Vikander was born to be a star. She's riveting as the surprisingly resourceful Caroline, and you can also catch her stealing scenes in Anna Karenina.

LAURA LINNEY

AS FDR'S MISTRESS MARGARET STUCKLEY IN HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, YOU'RE MORE SHY THAN SEDUCTIVE.

It was hard to look good in those clothes. I felt like I was a pillowcase with a head. And Roger [Michell, the director] was adamant there was no makeup on my face.

HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT HER?

I've always been interested in the Roosevelts. I live near Hyde Park. But I didn't know she existed. She never spoke about her relationship with Franklin. When she died, at 100, they found her suitcase of letters.

IT'S A BIG YEAR FOR PRESIDENTS ON FILM. WHO'S YOUR FAVORITE?

I'm a little partial to John Adams at the moment. [She won an Emmy as Abigail Adams in the HBO series John Adams.]