Director: Andrew Dominik
Starring: Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn.
Written by: Andrew Dominik and (novel ‘Cogan’s Trade’) George V. Higgins.
Running Time: 97 mins
Release date: 21st September 2012
New Zealand film director Andrew Dominik has made three films: the brilliantly brutal Chopper (that introduced us to one Eric Bana), the awe-inspiringly magnificent epic The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford (an absolute must see) and now Killing Them Softly. Returning to a more brutal world of crooks, criminals and hit men, this is another gem from a man whose name should be more well-known.
Low-lives Frankie and Australian Russell are hired to rob a card game run by local gangster Markie Trattman. The reasoning behind this is because Markie once organised a similar robbery and then bragged about it, so this time people will instantly think he set it up again. A mysterious man hires Jackie Cogan, a notorious contract killer, to come and sort out the problem and find the men responsible.
If you are thinking, is that all there is? You’d be wrong. Dominik has taken the novel Cogan’s Trade and brought it up to the final days of George W. Bush’s presidency. So throughout the film, while the characters are talking (and they talk a lot), constantly in the background are political speeches and commentary about the financial state of America, linking the events that are in the foreground. This film isn’t about low-lifes and killers, this is about money. Money that people don’t have. Every character is driven by money, whether it be the incredibly sweaty and downtrodden Russell with his plans of stealing pedigree dogs in order to make enough money to buy drugs and sell them (although he seems to put more in him then pass on), to Cogan’s wanting to hire fellow hit man Mickey but at a reduced rate because of the recession and making sure he flies economy.
The script is incredibly wordy but we get to know every detail about each of these sleazy individuals lives, from Mickey’s reasoning for his now heavy drinking and prostitute using, to Cogan’s explanation of why, when he is on a contract, he likes to kill them softly and from a distance. Some of the dialogue does slow the pace down in places and is also a little unnecessary but then this also heightens the tension when the violence occurs and trust me, it is unbelievably violent. The scene where Markie is beaten up is bone-crushingly shocking (you can see Domink’s love of Raging Bull in this one scene).
The performances are uniformally good but with such a strong and solid cast, you wouldn’t expect anything else. Richard Jenkins, who is slowly becoming one of my favourite actors, is, as always first class, bringing an air of superiority to his mysterious businessman. James Gandolfini, although in a minor role as Mickey, makes a big impression and Ray Liotta as Markie is the best he has been in ages.
However, the film belongs to Brad Pitt as Cogan. Pitt has never shied away from playing characters who are repulsive and reprehensible and here he does it again, only this time there is a side to him that, even though he is a cold-hearted killer, you secretly warm to. I appreciate that this is a man who is constantly in the limelight and yet can deliver strong performances every time and here he does it again.
If you were a big fan of last year’s Drive (and I certainly was, favourite film of last year) then this will be right up your alley. It’s not perfect by a long shot, the scenes sometime go on a little too long and the violence is so graphic it is very disturbing but it’s a film that tries something different than being just another gory gangster movie and I applaud that.