Wow. Watching this profoundly suspenseful crime story was one uncomfortable experience, but in a good way. The acting in certain situations throughout make for one riveting motion picture experience reminiscent to the first time I saw Pulp Fiction. Killing Them Softly is not quite in the same league, but a just as memorable character-rich genre twisting tale, nonetheless.
The film opens with a particularly pathetic crime ordeal, concerning a mob-protected poker game and two bumbling strung-out thieves without a clue of who they’re really robbing. The hooded pair of amateurs are warned before fleeing the scene that they will be killed, and as a viewer, you just know it’s a definite proposition.
Based on a 1970’s novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, the film is actually set during the George W. Bush period of economic downturn. Ironically, the economy is also a crisis in the mob arena where surplus money from illegal activities are in decline, so the recent heist of the poker game causes an unwanted ripple effect. Striding into town to the tunes of Johnny Cash, enter Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan, a professional smooth operator and chronic enforcer, hired by mob luminaries to wipe out those responsible for the ever dubious robbery. What is supposed to be a regulation track-down-and-hit becomes complicated as further behind the scenes events come to light. Cogan enlists the help from two colleagues, a mob middleman (an unforgettable Richard Jenkins) and the drunken loose cannon Mickey (James Gandolfini), actually a trigger-happy nut job.
Killing Me Softly has a narrative that is torn on multiple occasions; things happen quick and unexpectedly, most of the violence poetic in style. Bloodshed is never too far away throughout, even in the few rare lighter scenes. The vulgarity of “tough guy” dialogue is matched with perfectly rundown locations and color-muted widescreen cinematography.
Pitt is likable as Cogan, physically strong with a sharp mind, while Ray Liotta is appropriately grimy as the stooge pinned by the mob for the robbery. Ben Mendelsohn, last seen in The Dark Knight Rises and soon to feature alongside Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper in The Place Beyond the Pines, is unpredictable as Russell. High all the way through the film, he unwillingly plots his own downfall in a moment of clarity to a merciless kingpin during an amazing overall individual performance.
Directed by Andrew Dominik, the visionary behind The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, this Australian auteur uses substance to build tension. Killing Them Softly is a brutal first rate thriller, a strong story of modern gangsters in extreme situations.
Killing Them Softly hits select theaters November 30th.