Film review: KILLING THEM SOFTLY, from Built for Speed

Killing Them Softly is the latest film for Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford director Andrew Dominik.   As in Jesse James, Brad Pitt stars as a charismatic criminal casually disposing of those unfortunates on his hit list.  Here, however, the story has moved from the foreboding landscape of the American west to the decaying clutter of a contemporary New Orleans.

Pitt plays hitman Jackie Cogan who is called in to exact violent revenge on a group of bumbling criminals who unwisely robbed a mob card game. The storyline is similar to an episode of The Sopranos although the film is actually based on the 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade. As Pitt stalks his prey he encounters various depraved characters including James Gandolfini as a bitter, drunken hitman, Ray Liotta as the sleazy host of the card game and Richard Jenkins as a deliberately corporate looking mob go-between.  Ben Mendelsohn also appears as a sweaty idiot scumbag involved in the card game robbery and The Sopranos Johnny Sac (Vincent Curatola) makes a brief appearance as a small-time hood who plans the robbery.

Like Chopper and Jesse James this film is built on long stretches of dialogue where the menacing anti-hero (in this case Pitt) interrogates some bottom feeder crim.  Long passages of dialogue, do not necessarily equate to character development or profound philosophical insights and some of the exchanges here are, despite fine performances all round, a little tedious.

Like The Godfather and The Sopranos this film uses organized crime as a metaphor for the pitfalls of American capitalism.  Set in 2008 the film constantly references the GFC and its impact on mob fortunes as well as the presidential election.  Unfortunately, rather than subtly infuse the story with these economic and political references, Dominik delivers them as if slapping the audience over the head with a wet fish.

Despite script issues Killing them softly shows why Dominik’s films are essential viewing. He’s a masterful visual stylist who takes us from hideous, crumbling urban landscapes to hallucinogenic scenes from the mind of a smack addict. His scenes of violence are brutal but not gratuitous (although Ray Liotta’s character might disagree) and are always superbly constructed. He also has a Tarantino-like ability to transform conventional crime scenarios into tense psychological stand-offs such as the gut-wrenching card game hold up which seems just as threatening for the gun-men as the victims.  Dominik also makes terrific use of music, underscoring the mood of specific scenes with perfectly chosen tracks from Johnny Cash and The Velvet Underground as well as jaunty tunes from the 30’s which usually play over some hideous murder.

The long-winded script and occasional dull patches will have some film-goers fidgeting but Killing Them Softly is definitely worth seeing for Dominik’s remarkable depiction of a fascinatingly ugly world.

Nick’s rating: Four stars.

Classification: MA 15+

Director(s): Andrew Dominik

Release date: 11th October 2012

Running time:  97 mins.

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