Film Review: Killing Them Softly (Plan B Entertainment; 2012)


By Steven Armour

With only three previous films under his belt, director Andrew Dominik is fast becoming one of the most captivating, refreshing, and important filmmakers working today. His last film was the critically lauded and Oscar nominated The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and while that may have been five years ago, it has been well worth the wait for his most relevant and intense work to date. Killing Them Softly thrusts us into the gritty, visceral world of American criminality and those who inhabit it – a world that may not be so far removed from the one we currently live in.

 The plot is set in motion as two lowlife down-and-outers (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) hatch the perfect plan – or so they think – to raid a mob-protected poker game and make an easy 100K. Of course, things are never that easy – especially when it involves the mob and money. Enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is soon called in to investigate what went down and find out who was involved as tensions run high and a lot of blood is shed.

Although adapted from the novel Cogan’s Trade (the film’s original title) by Dominik himself, the writer/director could be seen as a true modern day auteur as he manages to

update the story to a contemporary setting and make it completely his own. The story and character interactions serve as cutting social commentary, with Cogan at one point cynically stating, “In America you’re on your own.” Furthermore, the main plotline acts as a not so subtle metaphor for the current economic crisis in America, with archive Presidential addresses from Obama and Bush on the issue featuring regularly in the background of scenes – whether they are on car radios or bar televisions. Much like in The Assassination of Jesse James… Dominik seems fascinated by the idea of the ‘American dream’, and just how flawed and unrealistic that ideal really is.

Dominik’s masterful direction once again ensures inspired and memorable scenes, with one particular slow-motion shot of a brutal killing/car crash becoming something strangely beautiful. Prolonged scenes of conversation, usually between two characters at odds, are stimulated by sharp, witty dialogue from an overall taut script featuring a near-perfect blend of drama and thrills.

As for the cast – every actor is perfect for their respective role. Brad Pitt plays brilliantly against type as the icy, hardened Cogan – giving the character such an effortless cool that we feel like we know his life-story without ever actually being told it – while supporting turns from Ray Liotta as a pathetic, out of his depth mob associate and James Gandolfini as a darkly comic, over-the-hill hitman give an added authenticity to the film.

While it may not become as revered as Dominik’s previous effort, Killing Them Softly is a timely, engaging film with convincing performances and a perceptive (if at times slightly heavy-handed) script; it’s a film with a deep, imperative significance.

Killing Them Softly is showing at both the QFT and the Movie House now.