When people say crime doesn’t pay, they usually don’t mean it in a literal sense. Though that’s exactly the case in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, as not even the criminal underworld is immune to an economic crisis. The script is an adaptation of the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by George V. Higgins, and Dominik takes that literary world and brings it to the real world, filling his film with audio and video of George W. Bush and Barrack Obama talking about America, and the recent economic crisis it’s incurred.
These clips aren’t vital to understanding the film, so if you’re watching and only getting the gist of what’s being said on the radio by one of the presidents, or what’s being said on a TV in the background, then don’t stress, as it’s more an extra layer on an already well-crafted, self-explanatory story.
The film begins with a low-level thief named Squirrel (Vincent Curatola), who is well beyond his years of actually committing crimes himself – mainly due to continuously being thrown in jail – sitting in his dry cleaning shop with another low level thief named Frankie (Scoot McNairy), who’s barely scraping by at this point in his life. Squirrel has a potential job lined up, but he needs Frankie to find a partner in order to pull it off. This brings Frankie’s Aussie pal Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) to the table, and while Squirrel isn’t impressed, his options are low.
The job is to rob a mob-protected card game, which is usually a death sentence; however, Squirrel knows that a guy named Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) is overseeing the games, and that years ago, Markie actually robbed the games himself. Time went on, bosses changed, and eventually word got out that Markie did it and it was all a good joke to be had, as everybody liked Markie. Though Squirrel says that if they do it again, Markie will be the fall guy, as they’d naturally think he’d do it again since he got away with it once, and nobody would be the wiser.
So Frankie isn’t a dumb guy, but times are tough, so he agrees and they do it. The thing is, Russell isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, and he blabs to a friend of his about the job, and that friend just happens to work for the mob boss that they stole from. Enter Brad Pitt. Pitt stars as Jackie, a hired hitman who is brought in by the higher ups to right these wrongs and help fix the economic tailspin that this robbery has caused within the criminal underworld.
Pitt is fantastic, and he has some great back and forth conversations with both Richard Jenkins (Cabin in the Woods, Six Feet Under) and James Gandolfini (The Sopranos). Jenkins plays a man known only as “Driver” in the credits, and he’s basically the guy who tells Jackie what the bosses want him to take care of. He’s the middleman, and he and Jackie spend quite a bit of time inside Driver’s car going back and forth about various characters, and the state of the world of crime as it is today.
For instance, nothing comes easy for Jackie from the moment he arrives, as nothing can get done without a “board” agreeing to it. Even then, they’re hesitant to make any major waves, and Jackie simply doesn’t understand their reasoning behind most of the decisions they make. While they’re thinking about the bottom line, they’re missing how things are in the real world, leaving it up to Jackie to try and talk some sense into Driver when it comes to relaying messages back up top.
Gandolfini plays Jackie’s friend Mickey, who used to be a go-to guy for taking care of “business” but has fallen off the wagon in recent years, now facing prison time for a hunting rifle he never used, and eager to drown himself in booze and prostitutes. Mickey is just another blatant case of how the world around Jackie has changed, and how nothing seems to be simple anymore.
The film has some really well shot action scenes, though this is definitely a dark comedy with shades of action from time to time, so don’t be looking for a big hitman type film with guns blazing – this one is all about what happens in between. The scenes shared between Pitt and many of his co-stars are what really make this film special. He shares some great moments with McNairy, and McNairy not only holds his own alongside the renowned A-lister, but actually steals quite a few scenes as well.
In fact, there aren’t any bad performances in this one, as everyone really brings everything to the table no matter how small their role may be. Dominik has a great eye for visuals, and he and editors Brian A. Kates and John Paul Horstmann really make this film flow seamlessly together and a nice, smooth pace. While the film is violent, Dominik never goes over the top or gratuitous with what he decides to show. And while there’s usually a lighter sense of dark humour floating about, the initial robbery is incredibly intense to watch, with Dominik getting the viewer right in alongside the crooks.
Killing Them Softly is a really interesting idea mixed together with some superb acting, and some beautifully shot, and wonderfully lit scenes, thanks to the work of cinematographer Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty). The dialogue is sharp and witty, and the story is intriguing and fun, with just enough suspense to keep you on edge between laughs.
The video transfer of the film is quite strong, with the night scenes coming through crisp, yet dark and filled with shadows, and the days looking as sunny or overcast as they should. The audio transfer is also top notch, which is good for such a dialogue heavy film.
Deleted Scenes – There are a few deleted scenes, though some are more extended scenes over deleted ones. There’s nothing really of note here, outside of a bit more backstory on one character that really didn’t fit into the overall picture, so it’s easy to see why it was cut.
The Making of Killing Them Softly – This featurette runs at six minutes in length, and is just your standard cast and crew talking briefly about the film, working on it, and what they thought about the experience.
Killing Them Softly is a witty and entertaining film that’s filled with political metaphors and comparisons to the economic crisis in the United States without ever coming across as preachy, politically biased or anything other than fun. Dominik really knows how to weave a strong story together, while bringing the best out of his actors and that’s exactly what he’s done here.
Inferno Presnts Killing Them Softly. Written and Directed by: Andrew Dominik. Based off the Novel “Cogan’s Trade” by: George V. Higgins. Starring: Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn. Running time: 97 minutes. Rating: 14A. Released: March 26, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Andrew Dominik, brad pitt, Cogan's Trade, James Gandolfini, Killing Them Softly, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins