KILLING THEM SOFTLY
Killing Them Softly
This modern cynical look at the messy underworld directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt, a professional hitman who supposedly is in possession of scruples and a conscience, offers a new take on the previously glamorised world of crime. The criminals on show here do not have opulent lifestyles and, in fact, few actually make it to the end of the film. Those that do survive are hollow shells of human beings who far from capitalising from a life of crime have instead lost their souls, humanity and any form of dignity they may once have possessed.
The plot revolves around a hold up of a card game by three low rent crooks Johnny Amato ( Vincent Curatola), Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell ( Ben Mendelsohn) in an attempt to not only steal the money but, in the process frame Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) who has previously pulled off such a scam. Having previous for a similar crime Trattman is the obvious suspect and Jackie Cogan, a reliable assassin, is drafted in to clear up the situation. Not believing Trattman guilty he enlists the services of Mickey(James Gandolfini) to carry out the executions but Mickey has been consumed by addictions to alcohol and prostitutes and is more of a liability than anything so Cogan has to take charge of the situation again.
Cogan’s approach is that of a kindly assassin and Pitt approaches his role like a study of cool-his initial appearance is accompanied by Johnny Cash’s ‘When the Man Comes Around’- and on the surface is all black leather and hair gel. His character has depth though and his inability to kill face to face wherein he can witness his victim’s pleas for mercy shows he is able to put distance between him and his work. He is also working in a recession -2008 would seem to be the films setting as the subplot of Bush and Obama vying for President makes clear- and after haggling over his diminished takings for his hard work at the films denouement delivers the damning indictment that ‘America is not a country it is a business’.
There are several outstanding performances in this film. Pitt, Gandolfini and Liotta deliver what is expected-and then some- of actors of their calibre but McNairy as the hapless Frankie is equally impressive.
The soundtrack is also impressive hosting such classics as the Velvet Underground’s ‘Heroin’ Nico’s ‘Wrap your Trouble in Dreams’ Ketty Lester’s ‘Love Letters’ as well as the aforementioned Johnny Cash track. The music is well incorporated with the visuals and Liotta’s death scene is executed like a classy MTV video with musical accompaniment.
Killing Them Softly is a gangster movie which shifts away from cliché and shows the broken down personalities and the cyclical and downward lifestyle such choices engender. There is no witty repartee, charismatic characters or sharp suits but instead shows criminals as stupid, greedy and hopeless. In many ways the film acts as a metaphor for modern America and only Pitt’s Cogan is able to articulate this which he does concisely and without too much heartfelt emotion, which is just how it should be.