Unyieldingly down and dirty. Killing Them Softly is more a skuzzy study of creeps and lowlifes, but it earns your respect instantly. It has one of those unconventional structures built on flavor and atmosphere – you don’t see Brad Pitt for instance, until you’ve been introduced to every other criminal. Pitt is terrific as Jackie Cogan, a no-nonsense hitman who is such a commodity that he’s sought by vigilante committees, corporations. Very hush hush. At least that’s what he leads you to think. Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn are amateur thugs Frankie and Russell, hired to rob a card game that’s run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). Trattman has such a bad rep that local gangs are left to believe he rigged the robbery himself. There are no innocent characters, however, it’s rather ruthless. And cold.
Andrew Dominik’s (“Chopper”) film opens with an artsy, pretentious sound design. You know, the kind that screeches your ears like a junkyard wrecking ball. Then we get mean tirades of dialogue, until you realize that this streetwise dialogue is the movie. There isn’t much action, which will bewilder commercial action fans. But when it comes, it’s thrilling in the anticipation. The card game robbery itself is heartstopping, because it’s one of those meta-credible robberies that has imitated real time and has chosen a stiff and specific point-of-view. Frankie and Russell are amateur enough to do something stupid, spontaneous and violent. You hold your breath in hopes that they don’t.
Pitt’s first two appearances are in the car with Richard Jenkins, a company man of some sort. The two of them discuss, and negotiate, the details of who must be rubbed out. Pitt and Jenkins meet every now and again to talk cash and the hits. These scenes are among the best in the film, and they could belong in any Coen Bros. or Tarantino film.
James Gandolfini is another hitman, and colleague of Pitt’s, who is visiting the state in violation of his probation. He bemoans his wife filing for divorce, and next we see him, he’s belittling a prostitute who has serviced him. Gandolfini’s Mickey is an annoying character, but it dawns on you he’s supposed to be annoying – and incompetent, coming apart at the seams – to Pitt as well. Gandolfini is an alcoholic and blowhard who might f*&# the job and snowball uglier predicaments if he’s not gauged correctly.
Deceptively a vicious operator, Pitt takes care of business his way. Then we get his idea of what’s fair: What he’s owed, who owes him, etc. Throughout the film, two things happen: Liotta takes a couple of unnecessary beatings (according to Pitt’s view of things, you see, a gunshot would take care of everything). And the economic collapse of 2008 underlined with audio clips of John McCain, George W. Bush and Barack Obama throughout the film as they sermonize community and equality during the election campaigns. These criminals are immoral but not phony, for they admit that the U.S.A. has become an everyman for himself cash and shakedown enterprise.
103 Minutes. Rated R.
CRIME STORY / ADULTS ONLY / WEEKEND DEBAUCHERY
Film Cousins: “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” (1973); “Jackie Brown” (1997); “Animal Kingdom” (2010, Australia); “Killer Joe” (2012).