Killing Them Softly

Directed By: Andrew Dominik

Starring: Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, and Sam Shepard

In recent years, a lot of people have begun to think that America has lost its way, that we're on a downward trajectory as a people, and that the highest offices in government go to the highest bidders.  While we can certainly debate the first two points, there's no debating the final one.  After all, we live in an America where the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people.  We live in an America where two men just spent $2.6 billion dollars trying to convince a few million undecided voters to elect one of them president.  We live in an America where a petulant body of legislators in Congress is holding the tax returns of 99% of citizens hostage to keep the pockets of the top 1% lined.  Is this the land of opportunity?  Director Andrew Dominik thinks not, and he spends most of Killing Them Softly making his case.

Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) regularly runs poker games for the mob.  Years ago, he set up a robbery at one of the games and walked away with thousands of dollars.  While he got away with it with just a beating from an enforcer named Dillon (Sam Shepard), he accidentally told the players about his involvement one night after having a few too many drinks.  Aware of this, Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) sees an opportunity to make some cash at Markie's expense.  If he robs the poker games, Dillon and his associates will automatically blame Markie and take it out on him given his past tendencies.  With that in mind, Johnny hires Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) to do the job.  They have no problem robbing players at Markie’s poker game.

Because he's ailing from a stab wound, Dillon is unable to personally crack some heads in an effort to figure out who stole the money.  With this in mind, the mob turns to Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to handle the matter in his place.  Cogan communicates with the mafia through a Driver (Richard Jenkins) and gets up to speed on what they want and who he needs to kill.  He begins his investigation exactly as Johnny planned, with the obvious suspect Markie.  As the job progresses and things get personal, Cogan convinces the mob to hire a second hitman to assist him — Mickey (James Gandolfini).  With an upcoming court date and a cheating wife though, Mickey may not be up to the task.

Killing Them Softly may be the most potent piece of social commentary on the big screen this year.  Andrew Dominik has some tough things to say about America, and no political figure, dead or alive, is safe.  Using the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis, he steadily hammers away at George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and any notions of fairness, equality, and community in the United States.  According to Dominik, the America talked about in grand political speeches and written about by Thomas Jefferson doesn't exist.  It never did.  It's all about the almighty dollar, and Dominik makes sure that we know this before leaving Killing Them Softly.

For Andrew Dominik, efficiency is the name of the game in Killing Them Softly.  With the film clocking in at just over ninety minutes, everything is kept to a minimum but remains meaningful.  This includes the violence.  For a crime movie, there's not a whole lot of blood spilled.  There are only a few murders.  I do have to say though that one character's murder is incredibly powerful, and the way it's done speaks to the efficiency of the film as a whole.  In this murder scene, Dominik puts everything in slow motion, which makes this character's death tragically beautiful.  The bullets are gliding through the air, glass is shattering everywhere, and blood is spattering in the victim's hair.  It's a powerful moment that emphasizes the finality of such a violent act.  Ultimately, Dominik is taking this commentary about America even further and showing how rough the nation really can be.  Rare artistic moments like this are definitely not wasted in an efficient film like Killing Them Softly.

The actors deliver some strong performances, but there is only one standout performer in this flick.  His name is Brad Pitt.  As hitman Jackie Cogan, Pitt brings another iconic character to the big screen.  Forget Billy Beane.  Forget Benjamin Button.  Forget Lieutenant Aldo Raine.  Pitt's performance as Cogan is something we've not seen him deliver in the past ever.  He's a brooding badass who walks with an undeniable swagger and talks with a keen charisma.  He makes every move with a calculated purpose and has no problem being a cold killer.  He cares only about one thing, and that's his money.  Ultimately, his attitude and his persona embody everything that Andrew Dominik has to say about opportunity and equality in America.  Pitt gives one hell of a performance in this movie.

Surprisingly, I struggled with the rating for Killing Them Softly.  It's an outstanding picture with some serious commentary on what America really means.  It's intelligently directed by Andrew Dominik.  It's well acted by Brad Pitt and the cast.  It even has quite a bit of humor.  However, the film is just a little too brooding at times and has a couple of very minor slow patches.  With this in mind, I want to give the film a sober rating, but I honestly can't.  Killing Them Softly gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have a wine cooler with this one.