Brad Pitt plays Jackie Cogan, a hardened hit-man, in his newest crime film, KILLING THEM SOFTLY. Two small time criminals hold up a card game funded by the local crime bosses and thus disturb the natural economics of the local crime scene. Cogan is hired by nameless, faceless, corporate-esque men to take care of those involved in order to restore balance. A high-profile lawyer (Richard Jenkins) acts as a messenger between Cogan and the nameless men.
The film is based on the novel, Cogan’s Trade, by George V. Higgins. The book was originally written in the 1940’s but the filmmakers position KILLING THEM SOFTLY in 2008 during the presidential campaign and, as we know, the state of the economy played an integral role.
The film aims to expose America’s economic system as faulty and criminally motivated. Significantly, it opens with Frankie (one of the robbers played by Scoot McNairy) walking out of a darkened tunnel and into a desolate and trash ridden New Orleans. It looks almost post-apocalyptic. A speech by Barack Obama is played in the background while Lynchian-esque sounds reverberate between the speakers. The sounds were disconcerting and that’s when I realized that the film was not going to be the piece of typical Hollywood fare that I had expected after watching KILLING THEM SOFTLY’s trailers and advertisements. The pulsating sounds undermine Obama’s speech and thus place the film into a critical stance.
KILLING THEM SOFTLY’s trailer seems geared to appeal to those seeking an action packed, mind numbing piece of cinema when it's actually a rather dialogue heavy (though very crass and vulgar at times) film. This is not to say that the film isn't violent at times. Ray Liotta receives one of the most raw and visceral beatings I’ve seen, and the emphasized sounds of fist hitting flesh are cringe-worthy. Much of the violence was highly stylized with the use of slow motion, editing and camera positioning. However, it serves only as an accompaniment to the many long conversations between characters.
Many have called KILLING THEM SOFTLY a neo-noir and it certainly invokes that sensibility at times. I would also consider it to be a modern day gangster/mobster film without the traditional glorification of crime, as the reality it shows us is not at all glamorous. The money is scarce because of a failing economic system and the cities aren’t thriving. Not even the mobsters live a lavish lifestyle anymore.
2 1/2 out of 4 stars