Killing Them Softly
Director Andrew Dominik
Stars Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn
Louisiana-set modern noir
There’s a lot of talk here. The characters talk themselves into doing something stupid, talk about their never-to-be realised dreams, talk about the job, talk about terms and conditions, talk through a narcotic haze, talk through a drunken stupor, talk through shattered teeth, talk too much to the wrong people, talk someone into colluding with their own murder, talk about love, even. And soundtracking all of that is the talk of the people in power and wanting power, via rolling news on TV screens ignored in bars and motel rooms in the dramatic autumn of 2008 as Obama closed in on an election win and George Bush’s pro-market administration committed itself to massive government intervention in the economy.
All of this verbiage fills out a rather simple and very traditional crime story, starting with an amateurish stick-up of an illicit card game. That leads to the arrival of veteran hitman Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) in bleak, ruined New Orleans to tidy up the Mob’s mess (not the city’s). His potential targets include the two losers who pulled the job (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) and anxious charmer who runs the game (Ray Liotta). Along the way, he subcontracts some work to sleazy, love-struck Mickey (James Gandolfini).
It’s a story about men – there is only female role of any size, and she’s (of course) a hooker. That’s partly why it has been compared, not unreasonably, to Glengarry Glen Ross.
So Killing Them Softly is a smart movie, well written and inventively filmed. It’s funny in places, and depressing in others. The heavyweight cast doesn’t disappoint. And yet, and yet, even though it is commendably short, it gets sluggish in the middle, too much bloody talk. And all that politics in the background, plus the devastated setting, hints at something deeper, but this is ultimately fairly glib. It deals with dismal prospects of those at the bottom of the criminal food chain, but with nothing of the sociological depth or emotional wallop of series four of The Wire. It’s enjoyable, but there was a crime movie better than this every other week in the 1940s.