Title: Killing Them Softly
Sweet, I Love Roberta Flack. Although the soundtrack features a nicely eclectic mix of artists (including perhaps the 2nd best use of Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around" in a film), the titular song is nowhere to be found.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Four Thomas Jeffersons out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Mob hitman discovers if you want something done right, you've gotta do it yourself.
Tagline: "America is not a country, it's a business."
Better Tagline: "Crime doesn't pay. Seriously."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: After Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) sneakily engineered a heist of his own poker game and got away with it, nobody figured he'd be dumb enough to do it again. That's just what Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) is counting on when he hires ex-cons Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendlesohn) to hit the game again, figuring everyone will assume Markie got greedy in these trying economic times. Unfortunately for them, the powers that be have called in pitiless enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to get to the bottom of things.
"Critical" Analysis: Cogan's Trade, the George V. Higgins novel upon which Killing Them Softly is based, is a fairly straightforward '70s mob story: a decent if occasionally incomprehensible read (Higgins likes that street slang), but nothing about it suggests timelessness.
That's where writer/director Andrew Dominik comes in. Dominik, who previously collaborated with Pitt in 2007's excellent The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, moves the setting from Boston to New Orleans and sets the story of down-at-their-heel thieves and faceless superiors squarely in the midst of the 2008 economic meltdown. The results are occasionally ham-handed, but more often elevate Killing Them Softly to a cynical yet darkly comic commentary on the corporatization of America.
Cogan reminds one a bit of Mr. Pink from Reservoir Dogs (if the latter was more sinister and not nearly as annoying). Much of the time, he comes across as the only professional in a world of self-destructive dimwits. But he's also a relic, an old school hitman who believes in eliminating problem players without regard for political expedience. This puts him at odds with his superiors, whose concerns are voiced with droll irritation by a nameless mouthpiece (played by Richard Jenkins).
However, if you were put off by the pacing of Jesse James, you might have similar complaints here. The first 15 minutes are mostly Frankie, Russell and Johnny discussing their heist, and the rest of the movie revolves overwhelmingly on conversations between two principals (Pitt and Jenkins, Pitt and Gandolfino, McNairy and Pitt), and unlike Dominik's previous affair, Killing Them Softly ends rather abruptly. The Weinstein Group might want to offer a disclaimer for those sucked in by the action-heavy trailer.
One thing's for sure, we can say goodbye to the bold mobsters of yesteryear. Gone are the Sonny Corleones, the Johnny Boys, and the Tommy DeVitos. This is perhaps best characterized by Liotta's portrayal of Markie, which is as diametrically opposed to Goodfellas' Henry Hill as you can get. Even Cogan, the most direct character in the film, knows better than to go in guns blazing every time. He's been around long enough to know how the game is played, even if he doesn't necessarily agree (and Pitt at this point in his career is certainly wizened enough to pull off world-weary).
We can also apparently bid farewell to women in their entirety. There's exactly one female speaking part in the film, a prostitute who trades barbs with burned out assassin Mickey (James Gandolfini).
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
So this is our fate, it seems: the endless bureaucratization of every aspect of life, inclduing the illicit. At least, that's Dominik's contention, even if - in one last fatalistic representation of the American Dream - he demonstrates how a savvy player can still navigate the maze of rules and restrictions to come out ahead.
Now fuckin' pay me.
Killing Them Softly is in theaters today. See it with your brother, the one you know broke your heart. I think his name was Fredo.