Andrew Dominik's "Killing Them Sofly" (2012) may seem too slow for crime movie-lovers. Here, we have a tale that is compulsively watchable with long passages of dialogue, instances of scathing black humor. And yeah, this is about gangsters and hit-men. It looks gangsters as the drained ones or empty vessels. We see a mob guy, who steals a waiter’s $1 tip, and for whom $1,000 might as well be $1 million.We also see guys drinking to excess and sleeping with prostitutes, but achieve little satisfaction from either things. Killing them Softly shows us trigger happy persons with vacant eyes and zero conscience, who are just craving for opportunity, money and business.
PlotJohnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) hires two dumb and inexperienced guys, Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelson) to raid a card game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). Markie had once robbed his own game and got away with it. So, Amato says Markie will bear the blame this time and he will be killed for the robbery by mobsters. A representative (Richard Jenkins) for corporate types who runs the local mob, calls in an expert killer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to resolve the situation.
Cogan is the very picture of a reluctant assassin, one who kills strictly out of professional obligation and often hires others to do the dirty work: "I like to kill 'em softly -- from a distance," he says. He soon finds out what needs to be done, but is often irked because every move has to be approved by a committee. And, when Cogan hires another expert hit-man Mickey (James Gandolfini), the decision proves to be ill-advised.
AnalysisThe plot of "Killing them Softly" might resemble a Coen-brothers' movie or a gangland movie from the 1970's. But, what makes this movie unique, is the acute characterization of the central quintet and the superlative acting of the thesps who play them. The film showcases crime as an allegory of all the ills that inflict American post-capitalism, around 2008, when Barack Obama was running for president. The movie was based upon the 1974 novel "Coogan's Trade" by George V. Higgins. The scenario of the novel is given a recession-era reworking. Director Dominik's characters are willing to interpret and quote Thomas Jefferson. Furthermore, whenever these characters are in public spaces, the TV is on, with Barack Obama (or Bush) giving cheerful speeches about the essence of democracy, equality for all, and the promise of the 'American Dream.'
At one point, Cogan gets cynical and blasts at Obama's rhetoric about unity and change as being empty and pointless. He believes that crime is a business and like any other business it is hit with recession (he is also forced to accept a discounted fee for his jobs). Dominik's talkative screenplay is dominated by lengthy, two-character exchanges punctuated by potent spasms of violence. Dominik is brilliant at using attitude and atmosphere to set up a scene, as he showed in Chopper (2000) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). The watered-down colors of cinematographer Fraser’s pallet sinks into our minds.
Dominik hands out sharp dialogues to great actors, so it's no wonder that we have excellent performances. Mendelson and McNairy are abysmally funny as two dumb guys, whom you hope never to meet in real life, the former just plain mean and the latter, almost touchingly naive. Brad Pitt could play rom-com roles by easily coasting on his good-looks. But, he has established a respected career from roles that challenge him. He is now clearly at the height of his career, pulling here another effortless compelling star turn as a sociopath who’s all business and no emotions.Though Pitt's performance, Cogan looks like a enigma: charming but callous and deadly. As Markie, Ray Liotta gets a chance not to go over the top, and has used it efficiently. Gangster icon Gandolfini slyly emphasizes the film's notion of the cruel fates that await everyone in this bloody biz.
"I'm living in America, and in America, you're on your own. America's not a country. It's just a business", with that knockout closing punchline, "Killing them Softly" will hold you in it's desperate grip.
Killing Them Softly - IMDb