Killing Them Softly is a brutally downright, satirical crime thriller, where punchy dialogues intertwine with offbeat visceral attitude. Even before the audiences get acquainted with all the shady characters, Andrew Dominik communicates one thing very clearly: in the film’s wild nature hides a much bigger, more considerable subtlety, namely the critique of the United States and its collapsing financial and political spheres (right before the 2008 elections). It’s not really a film about gangsters and their operations as it is about hope that’s somehow faded away a long time ago and there’s no way of retrieving it. In all the mess and violence that permeate the screen during the impetuous intermission-like sequences, the characters gradually create their own demise in a way that makes the still-heard political speeches seem almost comical, compared with the enormous problems of the so-called little guys.
Three slow-witted and unimaginative guys (Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Vincent Curatola) execute a seemingly perfect mob-protected card game robbery. Even though their plan looks too perfect to be true, they still manage to go on with it. Surprisingly, everything goes smoothly, so the boys start enjoying their easily made money doing drugs and drinking booze all the time. Unknown to them is the fact that a brutal, emotionless enforcer named Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) has just arrived in town, and is now ready to find out who planned the job. In the middle of the whole dialogue-driven narrative there are bits of utmost violence, during which Jackie takes the law in his own hands and does so with impressively gory results. What’s crucial to say is the fact that every character in the film has one’s own ideas about the world as such, and those ideas quickly turn into inanely simple plans, instead of real hopes and dreams.
Killing Them Softly bases its substance on a round of long and moody conversations, which – unfortunately – become more and more melodramatical and superfluous with every following minute. The film proves to be a game of sorts, juxtaposing various ostensibly inconsistent pieces into a climatic neo-noir creation. Apart from politically related themes (during the card-game robbery President Bush speaks about the financial crisis, during the final payoff there is Obama’s victory speech after the 2008 victory), there are the aforementioned abrupt jumps from over-talked sequences to the brutal ones. There is also a sudden contradiction between the low life reality and all those high hopes for a better future, and that’s probably the most disturbing thing about this film, and a true eye-opener in itself.
The editing is marvelous, mostly so in the drug-filled scene or the ones where gun shots cut through the unsettling silence and create a hardcore mash-up of brains and blood (also, the one, in which Ray Liotta takes a harsh beating is really satisfying). Brad Pitt shows he has guts once again, and proves that his acting skills are on the highest level. Let’s hope we’ll see more of him in the future. James Gandolfini is more of a lame asshole than a true criminal, but that’s his role so there’s no way of complaining. Richard Jenkins delivers one of the best lines in the whole film.
Killing Them Softly is a wonderful piece in the visual sense. There are lots of stylish camera angles and sudden outbursts of technical improvisations, which – combined with a few classic songs – only enhance the final effect. However, due to its over-talked ambitions and somehow shallow critique, the film becomes tedious after some time, even strangely one-dimensional, only leaving the audiences begging for more action.
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