Killing Them Softly marks writer/director Andrew Dominik's third film and second collaboration with Brad Pitt. Pitt plays Jackie Cogan, an enforcer of sorts who comes in to clean up a card game robbery by two amateurs. Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) plays Markie Trattman, the mob member who hosts the card games and who everybody thinks staged the robbery, because he had drunkenly stated he was responsible for the last robbery. Of course, no one cared, because, hey, everyone likes Markie. But this leaves him open and vulnerable for anyone who figures out he'll be the one the mob comes looking for first. However, the guys hired to clean out the card game aren't exactly "clean," despite the dish washing gloves they wear. "You'll take what you can get," one of them says to the other before putting on their pantyhose masks.
Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn play Frankie and Russell, respectively. Although they have the most screen time, it's Pitt's face you see plastered on promotional posters. Dominik employs Pitt's star quality like he did with 2007's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, playing the iconic Ford. Pitt is just as mysterious and ominous here. In his first scene in the film, we see him park his car and walk towards a construction site. We don't even see his face until a few shots later. We see his back and feet all to the tune of Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around;" yeah, we know he's important.
McNairy, last seen in this year's Argo, and Mendelsohn, The Dark Knight Rises, play very well off each other, bouncing off obscenities and girl problems off one another. Mendelsohn is perhaps the stand out, portraying a dirty heroine addict with too much confidence and an interest in dogs.
Throughout the film's entirety we see and hear Obama giving a speech on some television in the background; we hear then president George W. Bush and commentators discussing the nation's economy on the car radio while our enforcer goes to make a hit. In one scene, Pitt comments on Obama's words, saying we are not all equals. The classification of socio-economic groups separates those who are financially stable from the rest trying to make a living. Here, the crooks and robbers are us, just trying to make enough today for tomorrow. In one scene James Gandolfini (oh yeah, he's in it too) tells a hooker the money's on the table. "No tip?" she asks and he proceeds to tell her if she wants a tip to orally position a contraceptive device next time. The economy's hard on everyone, I suppose. Pitt crosses a street towards a bar to meet Frankie and we see a man get shot over what appeared a turf war. During an early scene, Pitt looks out a car window and says "there's a plague coming." But that plague is already present.
Softly oozes with political innuendos, social ideologies and economical undertones, well not so much undertones--they're pretty easy to catch, which makes the film that much more entertaining. But perhaps one of the best aspects is Dominik's directing style; he obviously loves long scenes and interesting camera maneuvers. We see Frankie go in and out of focus after Russell shoots heroine. There's also a very stylized stop light shoot out shot oddly romantically. The use of sound is also something to admire. Pitt and Gandolfini's characters meet at a bar, and Gandolfini begins talking about his soon-to-be ex-wife and we faintly hear a woman's voice in the audio mix. He puts on his yellow-tint glasses and the process very subtly sounds like the cock of a pistol. It's all stylized and intentional.
Killing Them Softly is based on the book "Cogan's Trade," by George V. Higgins. The film also stars Richard Jenkins (Cabin in the Woods).
This may not be up for any awards this season, but watch out for Dominik in the future. He's on the path to success, even if our economy isn't.