Posted August 2, 2012 by David Watson in Films
 
 

Killing Them Softly


“America’s not a country. It’s a business. Now f*cking pay me.”

“America’s
not a country. It’s a
business. Now f*cking pay
me.”

No shots are fired, no beatings administered but when
cool, ruthless enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad
Pitt
) tells his Mob handler (Richard
Jenkins
) the facts of life in a New Orleans bar on the eve of Obama’s
election while the US (and indeed the world) spirals into financial meltdown,
it feels like the most violent scene in an already wincingly violent
movie. As Jenkins procrastinates
and tries to explain to Pitt that theirs is a business of relationships, Pitt
simply scoffs: “I live in America.
And in America, you’re on your own.”

Adapted from The
Friends Of Eddie Coyle
author George
V. Higgins’
hard-as-nails crime novel Cogan’s
Trade
and updated from ‘70s Boston to post-Katrina New Orleans, everyone is
on their own in Australian writer/director Andrew
Dominik’s
second collaboration with star Brad Pitt, Killing Them Softly.
Low-level mobster Johnny (Vincent
Curatola
) hires bozos Frankie (Scoot
McNairy
) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn)
to knock over the high-stakes poker game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) reasoning that, as Markie
once robbed his own game and got away with it, suspicion will fall on him and
he’ll take the fall. Richard
Jenkins’ middle management fixer tasks Pitt’s shrewd professional Cogan with
investigating and resolving the situation. An example has to be made, confidence must be restored. Guilty or innocent, Trattman has to be
whacked. And Frankie, Russell and
Johnny can’t be too far behind.
Cogan knows Johnny personally however so he sub-contracts the job to
legendary hitman and friend New York Mickey (James Gandolfini). But
the alcoholic Mickey is way past his best. He’s in the grip of a messy breakdown and more interested in
booze and hookers than doing his job.
Increasingly exasperated by the lack of professionalism he has to deal
with, it falls to Cogan to set things right.

Tough, stylish and grimly nihilistic, Killing Them Softly is a violent, bleakly funny, crime parable which,
after his lush, beautiful, melancholic ode to the passing of the Old West, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The
Coward Robert Ford
, feels closer in spirit and execution to Dominik’s first
film, the darkly funny Chopper. Unlike the cheerfully demented Chopper
however, Pitt’s laconic Cogan is all business. And doing business is what the film is all about. Just as America’s economy is imploding,
the bottom-feeding criminals of Cogan’s world are also being forced to tighten
their belts; murder’s just the cost of doing business but even that cost is
being driven down due to recession.
While Dominik may hammer home his political points a little unsubtly
(almost every scene of note has a TV or radio somewhere in the background
providing electioneering commentary) his tight, authentic dialogue sings off
the page with some of Gandolfini’s monologues brilliantly judged while Cogan’s
climactic dissection of America is stunning and provocative; the souring of the
American Dream set in stone.

Visually and aurally, Killing
Them Softly
stuns.
Post-Katrina, the derelict washed out streets of New Orleans where the
film plays out, glisten with rot and malice. The assorted hoods and their gas-guzzling cars are
throwbacks to a bygone age; dinosaurs in a modern world. Russell’s slo-mo drug-addled
perceptions of a world filled with distorted sound, vision and time are fun and
the set-piece scenes of violence, the beatings and shootings, are sudden,
surprising and sickening with only one, the slow-motion execution of one victim
in a blizzard of bullets and broken glass, rendered almost abstract by its
beauty.

As you’d expect the performances are nigh on perfect. Gandolfini and Mendelsohn provide some
much-needed light relief in the darkness, Mendelson’s befuddled Aussie junkie
Russell in particular is an inspired creation, and Jenkins stressed, nebbish
Mob middleman could be any visiting area manager of a large corporation. As the doomed Trattman, Liotta invests
his character with a tragic, wounded nobility while Scoot McNairy delivers a
whiny, nervy Frankie, a sympathetic loser in way over his head who’s just
trying to stay alive. It’s Pitt
who dominates the film though from the moment his leather-jacketed shark Cogan
enters the film to Johnny Cash’s The Man
Comes Around
. It’s a tight,
nuanced performance which may finally see Pitt get the Oscar he should have got
last year for Moneyball.

Harsh, brutal and unforgiving, Killing Them Softly is a gritty, jaundiced vision of America in
turmoil that may just be the finest American film of the year.


David Watson

 
David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com