Killing Them Softly: review

Press image
Brad Pitt in Killing Them Softly

This adaptation of George V Higgins’s 1970s crime novel Cogan’s Trade brings the book’s down-and-dirty story of poker games, petty criminals and the mob to 2008. But it keeps that decade’s end-of-the-world look in its near-apocalyptic New Orleans setting. It also pulls off the clever trick of operating as a gangster movie – these mobsters have missions to complete and people to kill – while at the same time sarkily undermining these same folk, attributing to them a heavy dose of incompetence.

The story finds fish swimming with sharks. Two penniless crims, Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), shoot up a backroom poker game run by Markie (Ray Liotta). As quick as you can say ‘naive’, they have a cool mob fixer, Jackie (Brad Pitt), on their tail, who hires Mickey (James Gandolfini) to do his dirty work; Mickey’s handler is a backroom suit, Driver (Richard Jenkins).

It’s all defiantly male, and the only woman to open her mouth is a prostitute. But Killing Them Softly (O Homem da Máfia) is also pleasingly anti-macho in presenting the world of gangsters as a shit-show forever undermined by human fallibility. The film’s occasional bursts of violence are tempered by moments such as a character sobbing and vomiting after a beating. Another character’s marriage crisis and hard drinking make him criminally impotent.

Writer-director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert FordChopper) lays it on a little thick, both the state-of-the-nation nods, with ample TV clips of Barack Obama and George W. Bush playing in the background, and the idea that this grimy noir is a metaphor for sickness and stupidity in the financial sector.

But, those niggles aside, Killing Them Softly is a cracking piece of storytelling with a restrained balance of laid-back chat, canny visual outbursts and a delicious thread of gallows humour.

Dominik plays his hand as a stylist, memorably in a scene where a character is trying to talk through a fog of heroin. It’s also a terrific actors’ movie, with everyone on screen putting in some of their best work, from Mendelsohn’s cocky and comic petty slimeball act to Gandolfini’s turn as a booze-soaked killer with a sharp tongue. Pleasurable and just smart enough.

By Dave Calhoun

Killing Them Softly: review video

Killing Them Softly: review details

Length 97 minutes

Country of origin USA

Year of production 2012

Classification Not available

Opens 15 Nov 2012

Director Andrew Dominik

Cast Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini


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