Killing Them Softly (2012) – Film Review
Director: Andrew Dominik
Cast: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini
by Dan Berlinka
Andrew Dominik’s stylish low-life crime drama, Killing Them Softly, is understandably being promoted as a thriller. But in a way it’s almost the opposite. There are few twists. Instead the story unfolds with the same inexorable logic as the recent (and ongoing) collapse of the US economy. A parallel made explicit by background news clips from the banking crisis and the 2008 presidential election.
At one point Richard Jenkins’ mobster go-between and Brad Pitt’s hired gun bemoan the “corporate mentality”. This means every contract killing must first be signed off by “the board”. Even though it’s only four years later, those recurring soundbites from President Bush and then-Senator Obama, already give the film a period feel. While the general bleakness, both of the plot and much of the photography, makes the noughties look and feel like the seventies. Which, of course, they did.
But that’s not to say that the picture is unremittingly grim. If anything it plays like a black comedy. Its greatest strength is its dialogue and the universally excellent performances delivering it. Although within the superb cast special mention must be made of Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn’s utterly convincing penny ante losers. Also, James Gandolfini’s washed-up killer. And it’s great to see Ray Liotta revisiting Goodfellas territory, but with a different character trajectory.
There are maybe one too many monologues, the political subtext isn’t overly subtle and some of the music choices are perhaps a bit on the money. ‘Heroin‘ for a shooting up scene, for example.
But, to be honest, I am willing to forgive it pretty much anything as soon as the jarring opening sequence began with its unsettling but brilliant sound design. The ambient collage returns during the end credits and keeps me sitting dumbstruck all the way till the lights came up.
It’s perhaps an unfair comparison, but this is the film Drive could have been. Anyone who ever yearned for a return to the gritty cinema of Scorsese and Coppola in their prime should not hesitate to take a trip down these recessionary mean streets.