The last time Killing Them Softly director Andrew Dominik teamed with star Brad Pitt they delivered arguably the best Western since Eastwood’s Unforgiven with The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Cowards Robert Ford.
The last time Killing Them Softly director Andrew
Dominik teamed with star Brad Pitt they delivered arguably the best Western
since Eastwood’s Unforgiven with The Assassination Of Jesse James By The
Cowards Robert Ford. While Killing Them Softly is not a Western, although there are moments
where comparisons could be made, it is a period piece set in the build up to
President Obama’s first election and the economic recession that preceded
it. But this isn’t a Western Wing,
rather a hard-boiled noirish thriller that pulls no punches and may indulge
more politics than is strictly necessary.
financial crisis hitting America hard, even the criminals are looking for new
ways of making money. Johnny
‘Squirrel’ Amato (Vincent Curatola)
has just such a plan; he’s going to get two guys to knock over a mobster poker
game organized by Markie Trattman (Ray
Liotta). The catch; it’s
widely known that a few years ago Markie knocked over his own card game, if it
happens again there’ll be no doubt that Markie is to blame. Squirrel sets about hiring Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and heroin addict
Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) to do the
The heist goes
off without a hitch but the mob isn’t taking this one lying down. Driver (Richard Jenkins), working on behalf of the mob, hires professional
hitman Jackie (Brad Pitt) to deal
with Markie, Russell and Squirrel.
The problem is, Markie knows Jackie and Jackie likes to kill people
softly, none of this begging for mercy stuff. So he hires alcoholic, down on his luck, whoremonger
assassin Mickey (James Gandolfini)
to take care of Markie for him.
That is if he can get Mickey off the booze and women long enough to
leave his hotel room.
Killing Them Softly, like George
V. Higgins’ novel Cogan’s Trade
upon which the film is based, paints an honest, often sympathetic portrait of
the criminal underworld. At
various points throughout the film we are given glimpses into the desperate and
dark nature of these characters.
You won’t always like them but more often than not you find a way of
understanding their moves. So
while Markie is an arrogant player, you feel for him when he gets beaten up for
a crime that, this time anyway, was not his doing.
Scenes are often
drawn out, lethargic affairs that get to the core of the characters’
motivations by prolonged engagement with others. At times there is a Quentin
Tarantino aspiration, a desire to have you sit back and revel in the
company of these larger than life mobsters. Alas, Dominik, who also wrote the script, lacks Tarantino’s whip-smart,
rat-a-tat dialogue and the scenes sometimes drag and become repetitive.
Mickey, in particular, feels like an unnecessary character, adding little to
the overall plot other than a mid-section distraction. Perhaps that’s the point; that in these
socioeconomic times there are too many people out there superfluous to
society. People who claim to want
jobs but are too busy indulging in their own worthlessness. He is of course the polar opposite to
Pitt’s uber-efficient Jackie who is willing to put in the hard work to get the
job done. If anything the
political message often distracts from what is otherwise a brilliant little
gangster thriller. The bombardment
of TV coverage of first George W. Bush and then Obama speeches seem to dominate
every scene to the point of intrusion.
The ‘sub-text’ America is suffering is less ‘sub’ and more banging you
in the face with a baseball bat.
visuals, thankfully, outstrip his predilection towards politics. Seeped in greys and soaked in rain,
Killing Them Softly is a wonderful collage of grit and beauty. While the bottom feeders like Frankie
and Russell occupy the dirty side of the recession, Jackie and Driver are slick
pros looking to get the job done and move onto the next. Demonstrating Jackie’s professional efficiency
Dominik shoots one execution scene with a balletic grace that is stunningly
realised and almost certainly the most eye-popping on-screen killing in recent
are all spot on, with each actor perfectly cast to flesh out these outlandish
brutes. Gandolfini is on typically
repulsive form, sweating and grunting at anyone who looks at him. Ben Mendelsohn is easily the most
comic-bookish character on display but is riveting to behold; all bleary eyed
and drug-fuelled he proves that he has the potential to be one of those
character actors to relish whenever he’s on screen. Scoot McNairy, having graduated from indies such as In Search Of A Midnight Kiss and Monsters, brings a laid-back charm
which rapidly morphs into panic stricken deer in the headlights. But the film belongs to Pitt. Acting here as the film’s producer, you
suspect this is a role tailor made for the star. His Jackie is effortlessly cool, a Great White shark
navigating the dark waters of the world he occupies with such grace you don’t
see his ferocious bite coming until it’s too late. Indeed his end monologue is the sort of thing those on Wall
Street should be quoting rather than misusing Gordon Geko’s ‘Greed Is Good
and directed Killing Them Softly is
so close to being a brilliant film.
As such it becomes bogged down by the message rather than letting the
wonderful characters and story unfold organically. In Tarantino’s hands you suspect this would have been a
crime masterpiece, as such it feels like Tarantino by way of Guy Ritchie. Still business is business and Killing Them Softly certainly
gets the job done.