Sunday 30 September 2012


After learning some insider information, a local crime boss and his two hired hands turn over a mob poker game, placing the blame on Markie (Ray Liotta), the organiser of the game. A representative with a guarded interest hires Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to sort through the mess and restore order to the area.

It may take a while for him to arrive on screen, but having previously worked with Pitt on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and formed a comfortable director/star dynamic, director Andrew Dominik (Chopper) gives Pitt one hell of an entrance, to the sounds of Johnny Cash's When The Man Comes Around. It's a great introduction to a character that might not even have the most screen time, but whose presence is felt throughout the film.

Despite the inclusion of some well known character actors in the cast (Gandolfini, Jenkins, Liotta), the bulk of the story rests on the shoulders of Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn, so memorable as Pope in Animal Kingdom in a role that should have scored him an Oscar nomination, impresses here as Russell, one of the two ex-cons hired to perform the robbery. Likewise, McNairy, best known for indie leads in Monsters and In Search of a Midnight Kiss, excels as Frankie, the second ex-con just trying to work his way up. They're both bottom of the ladder crooks playing in an arena much bigger than them.

Pitt's role is that of a hitman/negotiator, working through the many logistics and business deals that accompany the clean up. Feeling a sense of loyalty to one of the key figures in the crime, he flies in James Gandolfini's Mickey, a past his prime gun for hire who could be an extension of the character he played in True Romance (where, I'm sure by no coincidence, he shared the screen with Brad Pitt).

It's a curious narrative that, under close scrutiny, takes longer to wrap up than it should. Characters deliver monologues that have nothing relevant to do with the story (Gandolfini's Mickey delivers a loving ode to his long suffering wife before sleeping with most of the prostitutes in New Orleans - noticeably the only women in the film), and there are numerous scenes of Pitt and Richard Jenkins (as a secretive character who isn't given a name) sat in a car working through the red tape and negotiations involved in restoring the balance.

But, when we do reach scenes of action, they're unflinchingly violent and frighteningly visceral. When the relatively innocent Ray Liotta gets his comeuppance via a savage beating in the rain, it's brutal and disturbingly sadistic, and a hard scene to watch without feeling at least some of Markie's pain.

Killing Them Softly is a film about greed and the American Dream. Set in a seemingly decimated New Orleans during the 2008 Presidential race, a radio can't be passed without someone talking about Obama vs McCain or the financial crisis. Quite whether the film is anti-Obama, anti-Republican or anti-American I'm still not sure, which given how heavy handed the subject seems to be treated, I probably shouldn't be left in any doubt.

That's the only major issue to have with a film that is rich with complex characters, stomach-churning violence and tense action, all of which create a big impact. The imposing sound design may infuriate some audiences (you'll know your stance before the title sequence has finished), but this is the work of a director and star delivering exactly what they set out to do. A future crime classic.


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