Killing Them Softly

WRITTEN BY: Andrew Dominik
DIRECTED BY: Andrew Dominik
STARRING: Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, Scoot NcNairy, Ben Mendelsohn
RATING: 3.5 stars
Like so many people, Brad Pitt was amazed by Andrew Dominik's writing and directing work on Chopper in 2000. He was so impressed with the film that he worked with Dominik on the underrated film, The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. Pitt was not dissuaded by the lack of success of that film and decided to work with him again on Killing Them Softly. It's another low-budget, independent film – in fact, there are a lot of small production companies attached to this film, including Pitt's own company, Plan B – but the pair are onto a winner with this film. I just hope enough people take the time to see it.
Based on the 1974 novel Cogan's Trade by George V. Higgins, but set during the 2008 US presidential election, Killing Them Softly is essentially a gangster film. Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) runs an illegal card game for the mob and one day decides to steal from his friends by hiring two men to rob the game. Everyone forgives Markie because they like him and they all move on. But, Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) gets wind of what happened and decides to enlist the help of low-level criminals Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) to rob the game again, thinking the mobsters will blame Markie for cheating them again and whack him, leaving the trio home free. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite go according to plan so an enforcer named Jackie Cogan (Pitt) is called in to sort out the mess.

Some may argue that the film is a little too political and my initial feeling was along those lines. There are a few scenes where George W. Bush or Barack Obama are speaking in the background and it's a little distracting at times, rather than adding anything to the story. Nonetheless, upon further reflection, I don't think the film is setting out to be political, as such. What Dominik has done is actually look at the USA as a country irrelevant of political parties but more so in terms of how it is generally business-minded to the extent that it impacts the country's politics and relations with other countries. I suppose it's more of a commentary on how the USA has fallen from a great power to a country that still holds international influence while its every day people struggle to make ends meet – even mobsters.

There are amazing performances from every actor in this film: Richard Jenkins is suitably awkward as the driver dealing directly with Cogan on behalf of the mob; Liotta has a particularly moving scene in which his character is almost beaten to death; James Gandolfini provides an interesting look at an ageing, drunk, sex-addicted killer; McNairy is appropriately panicky; Mendelsohn nearly steals every scene as a drug-addicted, idiot thief; and Pitt is lethally calm, cool and collected to the point that no one wants to mess with him.

The violence in this film is gruesome and entertaining but it's not for the squeamish. I particularly enjoyed the slow motion shots during one killing. In fact, the entire film was slow-paced, like Dominik's other films, with good dialogue that is at times appropriately offensive and other times quite funny. I think Dominik is the best Aussie born in New Zealand since Russell Crowe.