★ ★ ★ out of 5 buckets | Rental
Rated: R - Violence, sexual references, pervasive language and some drug use.
Release Date: November 30, 2012
Runtime: 1 hour 37 minutes
Director: Andrew Dominik
Writers: Andrew Dominik, based on the novel 'Cogan's Trade' by George V. Higgins
Cast: Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Vincent Curatola, Ray Liotta, Sam Shepard, Trevor Long, Max Casella, Slaine
SYNOPSIS: A local dry cleaner owner hires two down-on-their-luck thugs to rob an underground card game, knowing that the lackey running the game will most likely be targeted for the theft.
REVIEW: Andrew Dominik, writer and director of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Chopper, adapts the 1974 George V. Higgins novel 'Cogan's Trade' into a screenplay that reunites Dominik with his Jesse James star Brad Pitt. Gritty and raw, Killing Them Softly takes a different look at pre-Obama America and the occupational hazards of a hitman trying to make a living.Struggling dry cleaner owner Johnny 'Squirrel' Amato (Vincent Curatola, Frame of Mind) and former convict hatches a plan to rob an illegal card game. Using two down-and-out thugs Frankie (Scoot McNairy, Argo) and his junkie partner Russell (Ben Mendelsohn,The Dark Knight Rises), 'Squirrel' directs the duo to steal from mob lackey Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta, Charlie St. Cloud) who had already stolen from his card game once before. When the job is done, a mob contact and driver (Richard Jenkins, The Cabin in the Woods) hires hitman Jackie (Brad Pitt, Money Ball) to investigate the crime and who was ultimately responsible. As the job gets more complicated, Jackie must bring in help in the form of old-timer Mickey (James Gandolfini, Where the Wild Things Are) and driver Kenny Gill (Slaine, The Town).
Killing Them Softly is somewhat a different film. Set amidst the backdrop of a changing America that was experiencing drastic and life-changing economical climate, there are no redeeming characters in the film. Each one as crooked as the one who came before them with varying degrees of badness, but with their own sense of code. Due to the failing economy, even the most staltworth former criminal finds that a return to a life of crime is all but inevitable. Well-loved mob runner Markie has stolen from his own house. Frankie just needs a break after he finds that the parole and work-release 'system' is counterproductive. Burnout Russell walks and sells dogs in the hopes of scoring drugs to sell, all in a pyramidal pursuit to make more and more money. Hitman Jackie, ever the professional and businessman, detests the bureaucratic nonsense that keeps him from being as effective as he needs to be.
Aside from the flawed but intriguing characters, director Dominik engages the audience with witty dialogue and wonderfully abstract camera work. Like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and his own Chopper, every shot is painstakingly handcrafted for maximum effect. Jackie's encounter with Markie in the pouring rain is a perfect example of what makes the film so interesting. Russell and Frankie's conversation during Russell's needle ride on his own supply of smack deserves accolades as well. The banter between Pitt's Jackie and Gandolfini's Mickey is both enlightening and poignant.
Dominik's take of a changing economic America and a changing illegal trade into a bureaucratic quagmire 'corporate' cooperative is fun, if a bit obvious. The continued radio broadcasts and television telecasts of then current President George W. Bush and current senator and future President Barack Obama sets the tone of what all of the characters are dealing with for their future prosperity. The business of illegal trade, betting, card games, and public perception all play their part in this drama.
Killing Them Softly finds itself in a precarious position. It finds trying to balance with fine acting, an interesting story, great dialogue, and unique camera work with a sometimes obvious forced moral and relevant perspective in a time that takes place years after the original 1974 George V. Higgins novel was published.
Killing Them Softly is a strange little tale of just trying to make it and getting the job done. The performances are cool and the characters engrossing. But will it appeal to all? I guess you will have to decide to on whether to take on the contract for yourself.