"One of the films of the year, Killing Them Softly strikes a perfect balance between being traditional of its genre, yet with enough about it to stand out and feel unique..."
It's fair to say that the vast majority of the world's population has been affected somewhat by the recession, from bankers to retailers, to staff at the NHS. But what we haven't yet taken into consideration is the criminal underworld, because believe it or not, the financial crisis has been equally as disruptive to gangsters too - themes that are depicted wonderfully in Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly.
Brad Pitt plays Jackie Cogan, a professional enforcer who is hired to investigate a heist which took place during a poker game - and then proceed to kill those behind it. The robbery was conducted by inexperienced layabouts Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), under the guidance of Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) with the intention of framing Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) who although running the poker game, has a previous history of conducting a heist on one of his own sessions.
Jackie wises up to the situation but is still left to clean up the mess as he goes on the hunt for the trio of perpetrators, hiring alcoholic hitman Mickey (James Gandolfini) to assist him along the way. However, as with any such circumstance, complications arise, but Jackie remains on top of the situation, simply hoping to earn his pre-arranged pay-check - to be paid to him by the unnamed driver (played by Richard Jenkins).
Killing Them Softly bears a brilliantly sharp script, that is witty and intelligent. It allows for the film to flow well and means it doesn't need to rely on action orientated scenes and gratuitous violence. In fact, some of the best scenes are simply conversations between characters. The relatively subdued approach is matched by a simplistic premise, as we focus solely on the one incident that took place at the poker game - not deviating away from the matter at hand.
Killing Them Softly is stylish too, as Dominik is creative in his approach, with a couple of memorable scenes that have you completely gripped. There is a wonderful sequence where we witness Russell taking heroin, with the eponymous Velvet Undergound track playing over the top. We also have a murder conducted in slow-motion, as we watch a bullet travelling at an incredibly slow pace. Such stylised scenes often appear out of place and pretentious in film, yet they suit the nature of this one brilliantly. As does the sound track - including a series of masterfully selected songs.
The performances are also astounding, with Gandolfini to take the bulk of the plaudits. He turns in a terrific performance as Mickey, a merciless contracted killer, and somewhat of a tragic figure given his unhealthy obsession with alcohol and prostitutes. Pitt is also fantastic, with a cool, charming swagger about him: imperative in taking on the lead role in such a film.
However what really makes Killing Them Softly stand out from the crowd is its political context, just giving this film that little bit more than your average gangster flick. We're thrown into the heated lead-up to the Barack Obama election, using the theme of "change" and of course the financial crisis as a source of reference. One does question when film makers decide to go down a political path, as often genre movies do work best when simply concentrating on their own premise, but it just seems to fit this picture, adding a twist to an already established, conventional narrative.
One of the films of the year, Killing Them Softly strikes a perfect balance between being traditional of its genre, yet with enough about it to stand out and feel unique. Dominik seems to only make films sporadically - with this being just his third film in twelve years - but he has a spotless track record thus far with the brilliant Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford already to his name. Here's hoping we don't have to wait five years for his next one.