Killing Them Softly
dir-scr Andrew Dominik
prd Dede Gardner, Anthony Katagas, Brad Pitt, Steve Schwartz
with Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, James Gandolfini, Vincent Curatola, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, Sam Shepard, Slaine, Trevor Long, Max Casella, Linara Washington
release UK 21.Sep.12, US 19.Oct.12
12/US 1h37
Killing Them Softly
Stake out: Pitt and McNairy

mendelsohn gandolfini jenkins
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Killing Them Softly There's a strong 1970s vibe to this stylish, low-key thriller, which is based on George Higgins' 1974 novel Cogan's Trade. And Australian director Dominik keeps us off-balance with an unexpected structure, which gives the film an exhilaratingly offbeat rhythm.

After low-life losers Frankie and Russell (McNairy and Mendelsohn) rob a card game organised by a local gangster (Liotta), the plan to shift the blame doesn't quite work. So the corporate crime boss (Jenkins) calls in hitman Jackie Cogan (Pitt) to clean up the mess. Jackie in turn brings his old cohort Mickey (Gandolfini) to town, although he's a bit too pickled in alcohol to help much. Since he's hindered by the committee that's supposed to make the decisions, Jackie works out his own clear-headed plan.

Set in autumn 2008, every scene is underscored with background news about the election and economic meltdown, revealing the paralysis of corporations from the American government and global finance to, yes, organised crime. This may be rather heavy-handed, but it refocusses the film as something more interesting than just a hitman thriller. It's actually about a vanishing work ethic; Jackie takes pride in his job, preferring to kill people softly rather than inflicting pain. And he has no time for the dimwits, drunkards and company men around him.

Pitt gives a deft performance that's full of worn-out charm, wryly taking the mickey out of everyone while never quite winking at the camera. Other casting choices are more obvious, with Gandolfini as a less held-together version of Tony Soprano, Jenkins doing weary/officious and Liotta sending up his standard mafioso. McNairy and Mendelsohn have broader roles as oblivious simpletons. Like characters from a Coen brothers movie, we have sympathy for them, even though they're pretty hopeless.

Dominik uses a terrific visual style that highlights the moral messiness of a story in which a killer is the voice of reason and everyone else is just trying, without much success, to control their fates. The oddball structure and dry characterisation keep us on our toes, even when we begin to lose interest in the plot itself. And it's intriguing to watch a film in which our hearts and brains have very different loyalties. So the ending leaves us spinning.

cert 15 themes, language, strong violence, drugs 3.Sep.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall