Based on the 1974 novel Cogan's Trade by George V. Higgins, Killing Them Softly is a gritty and profane crime drama filled with brutal violence and plenty of cynicism. Normally that wouldn't be an issue for me, but in this case the film didn't seem to go anywhere overly interesting with this material and I was somewhat disappointed by the whole affair.
It's a shame too because I was quite looking forward to this latest collaboration between Brad Pitt and director Andrew Dominik, who previously worked together on the wonderfully crafted The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
Killing Them Softly is set in the days prior to the 2008 presidential election, just as the U.S. economy is in the midst of its worst collapse in decades. The reason we know it's set at this time is because every television set in every bar that the characters frequent, and each radio station that they listen to in their cars seems to be tuned to then-candidate Barack Obama or President Bush addressing the nation on the sad state of the economy. This must mean something right? Well I'll get to that in a minute.
The basic plot of the film involves two low life idiots, Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) robbing a mob-protected card game which is headed up by Markie (Ray Liotta). You see, Markie has already robbed his own card game in the past so the pair figure he'll just get blamed again for this heist and they will get away scott-free. Unfortunately, Russell is a total junkie and he can't keep his mouth shut, so the syndicate, represented by Richard Jenkins' Driver, hires hitman Jackie (Brad Pitt) to help clean up the mess. Jackie decides to bring Mickey (James Gandolfini) in on the job for some assistance, but sadly Mickey has become an insecure drunk incapable of professionalism. So it's up to Jackie to investigate the heist on his own and deal with the culprits as only an enforcer can.
It's obvious that the director is trying to make a point that organized crime essentially functions as its own form of capitalism and that America isn't quite the land of hope and dreams that everyone wants it to be. It's just all about the money, and who can get theirs by any means necessary. Not exactly earth shattering stuff here folks, in fact I thought it was a tad too heavy handed.
I will say that the performances all around were quite superb though, and Brad Pitt does a tremendous job playing Jackie as a no nonsense, cool as a cucumber enforcer that you wouldn't want to mess with. He shares some excellent scenes of dialogue with both Richard Jenkins and James Gandolfini (who seems to be channelling Tony Soprano again).
Killing Them Softly is a character driven film that contains very little action, and for a movie that clocks in at only 97 minutes it moves fairly slowly. The strong work by the actors was the only thing that really kept me engaged because the plot wasn't overly compelling. I've seen plenty of crime films like this before and it all seemed somewhat familiar to me.
This seems like a bit of a step back for director Dominik, after making a splash in 2001 with Chopper and 2007's Jesse James. Sure it is well shot and there are some stylistic flourishes on display, but for the most part this is a joyless and dark film that doesn't really add up to all that much.
I was hoping that this film would be a 9 out of 10 but....
I give Killing Them Softly a 6 out of 10.