Review: 'Killing Them Softly'
BY NOUR HABIB World Scene Writer
Saturday, December 01, 2012
12/01/12 at 5:38 AM
There is nothing soft about "Killing Them Softly." It is vulgar and violent, but gloriously so.
Drugs, prostitutes and shotguns are a natural part of the appalling crime world that is the setting of this thriller.
The movie begins as three amateurish criminals hatch and execute a plan to rob a mob-protected card game. It's dangerous and they know it, but they have what they think is a smart plan that will throw suspicion on one of the mob's own.
But then an enforcer and hitman (Brad Pitt) is brought in to find and kill the thieves so that the card games may begin again and the criminal "economy" can pull out of its near collapse.
In rainy alleys and on dark streets, men are brutally beaten and almost casually killed. Blood spatters, and corpses are tagged. Sex is referred to as a hobby, and killings are negotiated like they're common business deals.
Director and screenplay writer Andrew Dominik ("The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford") leads his superb cast wonderfully through this dark drama, based on the 1974 novel "Cogan's Trade."
Dominik sets the tone - one of detachment - with shadowy scenes, a slow pace and an overall atmosphere of an earlier era that many may associate with mob life. If it weren't for the backdrop of news reports about the election and recession, it would have been hard to tell that the film is set in 2008 rather than in the time of the novel it is based on.
There's plenty of one-on-one dialogue between the characters, which is the film's biggest strength. Pitt shines in his exchanges with fellow hitman Mikey - played by James Gandolfini ("The Sopranos") - and the nameless driver (Richard Jenkins) who serves as the messenger between him and mob leaders.
Pitt is a cool, hardened criminal - hair slicked back, a glimmer of an amused smile sometimes seen beneath his mustache and goatee. He likes to kill his prey "softly" - or from afar - so that he doesn't have to see their eyes and deal with all that "emotional stuff." He has a no-nonsense attitude, and not even the mob leaders can shake him up.
And the early back-and-forth between amateur thieves Scoot McNairy ("Argo") and Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn ("The Dark Knight Rises") is so wonderfully entertaining that I would have been satisfied to watch only them for the remainder of the movie.
The film's one flaw, unfortunately, is its lack of subtlety when it comes to its political and social message. Set in the weeks before the 2008 election, we're confronted with background TVs broadcasting candidate Barack Obama's campaign speeches and radio segments airing the words of President Bush about the economy.
In the final scene, perhaps thinking its "hints" were not strong enough, the film finds Pitt going on a diatribe after hearing Obama's victory speech on election night. He laments that America is a business, not a country. "I live in America, and in America, you're on your own," Pitt says as he demands payment for his completed job.
‘KILLING THEM SOFTLY’
Cast: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins,
Theaters: AMC Southroads 20, Cinemark
Tulsa, Cinemark Broken Arrow,
Starworld 20, Owasso, Sand Springs
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Rated: R (for violence, sexual references,
pervasive language, and some drug use)
Quality: (on a scale of zero to
Original Print Headline: Tale of savvy hitman glorious in its violence
Nour Habib 918-581-8369
Brad Pitt plays enforcer and hitman Jackie Cogan in "Killing Them Softly." Courtesy/The Weinstein Company