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Killing Them Softly

2012 | 97 min | R | 2.39:1

Killing Them Softly


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User reviews

2 user reviews

Movie appeal

Dark humor47%


Theatrical release date

 30 November, 2012
 12 September, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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Killing Them Softly


Screenshots from Killing Them Softly Blu-ray

Killing Them Softly Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, November 29, 2012

"Killing Them Softly" isn't your average hitman movie. It isn't your average heist picture. Heck, it's not really your average Brad Pitt starring vehicle either. Reteaming with his "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" director, Andrew Dominik, Pitt assumes another role that's cushioned by an ample amount of atmosphere, never really requiring his full participation. Stylish and bleak, "Killing Them Softly" is also profoundly political, using the basic tenets of the mob genre to comment on the financial state of the nation, where even men who've devoted their lives to murder can't make a buck these days.

Frankie (Scott McNairy) is an aimless young man without any job prospects. Offered a chance to make a small fortune by robbing an underground poker game, Frankie accepts the challenge, bringing in pal Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) to assist, though he remains slightly unnerved with his partner's violent enthusiasm for the score. Comfortable in the knowledge that the blame for the robbery will be pinned on Markie (Ray Liotta), a crook who's already been responsible for another card game hustle, Frankie attempts to preserve his anonymity, while Russell drowns himself in heroin, eventually sharing details of the crime with those in the know. Enter Jackie (Brad Pitt), a hitman called into duty by middleman Driver (Richard Jenkins), sent out to gather clues and execute those responsible for the theft. Calling in enforcer Mickey (James Gandolfini) for backup, Jackie inches closer to the doomed duo at the center of the underworld storm, finding his mission complicated by the short tempers and frazzled minds of the participants while the world at large works toward an economic doomsday in late 2008.

"Killing Them Softly" is an adaptation of the 1974 novel "Cogan's Trade," written by George V. Higgins, though Dominik has made a considerable effort to bring the material into the recent past. The business of being bad is updated to the 2008 election season, where financial collapse was imminent, threatening the very stability of America while politicians worked out their calculated campaign routines. Dominik isn't subtle about his message, painting the subtext with a roller as the characters stumble through their lives in a daze, with everyone unsure of the future, requiring an activation of basic survival skills. We hear speeches on the radio and television and we see Obama's smiling face on billboards, establishing a critique of the country's monetary dysfunction and the very process of capitalism, emphasizing the monetization of murder. But even that gig doesn't pay what it used to, observing Jackie reaching a boiling point (a rare event for a cool cat like him) when his employers balk at meeting his fee. In this case, crime literally doesn't pay.

As established in his previous features, Dominik imagines himself a slightly more engaged Terrence Malick, slowing down the pace to soak up the toxins of the story. While only 90 minutes in length, "Killing Them Softly" often feels twice as long, with the screenplay arranging extended conversations between the characters (often seated in cars), some of limited dramatic value. The director flashes intent with ease, but he has lousy instincts when it comes to a narrative drive, with the movie stopping dead in its tracks once Mickey enters the picture. A troubled, older bruiser facing obsolescence, Mickey's place in the thematic fabric of the film is easy to spot, though his value to the overall story being explored is debatable, as is Gandolfini's habitual performance of rage and nostril-whistling discomfort. Time with Mickey keeps "Killing Them Softly" away from the more compelling turns of the underworld tale, yet Dominik can't help himself.

Returning to the disintegrating robbery, "Killing Them Softly" serves up intriguing acts of intimidation while all violence remains punishing, concentrating on the authenticity of bodily harm and brutal changes in fate that occur in an instant. Dominik maintains stylishness to a point of fetishism, turning gunplay into orgasmic rushes of broken glass and bullet discharges. There's also some visual indulgence with Russell's heroin-bricked mind, finding the junkie unable to piece together a basic conversation with his panicked partner, creating a jittery, sensorial sloshing sequence. The movie is undeniably imaginative and profoundly considered on a cinematographic level, sure to tickle those who embrace such meticulous screen craftsmanship. However, true to form, Dominik rarely engages beyond surface appeal. Although, to be fair, these surfaces are often enthusiastically executed.

"Killing Them Softly" is mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore, but fails to provide an invitation to join the outrage. It's worth a look just to spy Dominik's maturation as a filmmaker and Pitt's command of dastardly deeds (the role isn't challenging, but the actor finds funky behaviors to play). I just wish there was something more to the viewing experience than unfocused political criticism and a somewhat routine tale of an execution gone awry.

Starring: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Scoot McNairy, James Gandolfini, Ben Mendelsohn (I), Richard Jenkins
Director: Andrew Dominik

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