Film review: Killing Them Softly (3 out of 5 stars)

Brad Pitt in Killing Them Softly.
Brad Pitt in Killing Them Softly.

There are some good funny moments in this film... but it’s not a comedy. There are plenty of murderous-looking men touting weapons... but it’s not really a gangster movie.

And that is the crux of the problem.

I understand the argument that films don’t have to be slotted into specific categories, but the overall impression of Killing Them Softly is of a ‘bitty’ movie that meanders far too much.

In fact the only constant throughout is the message that the USA is a nation (certainly in the President George W. Bush era when this is set) fully focused on business rather than on its people.

This is enforced by having a TV or radio on in the background of the various settings with Bush and other ‘experts’ talking about monetary matters.

Even when the then senator Barack Obama is seen talking about ‘community’ his comments are dismissed by Pitt’s character.

The main strength of the movie is its cast, most of whom are given long speeches at some point.

Brad Pitt (who also co-produced) plays the central role of Jackie Cogan, an ‘enforcer’ who is called in following a heist at a mob-protected card game.

Into the mix are thrown Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn who play the guys involved in the heist.

Adding even more impetus are Ray Liotta as a small-time gangster and James Gandolfini as another hitman.

However, the over-riding feeling is that apart from Pitt the actors’ roles could have been so much more.

Liotta spends much of the time on-screen being roughed up while Gandolfini’s character promises much but is pushed to one side and dealt with off-screen.

Pitt’s performance, though, is the sort that might well give him a nomination for an award or two.

McNairy (excellent in the 2010 low-budget film Monsters) shows he has a good career ahead and Aussie Mendelsohn has some great dialogue which he serves up really well.

There’s plenty of violence with shootings and beatings but these are treated by director Andrew Dominik with remarkable care and precision (though after seeing Dredd and this movie I’ve now watched enough slow-motion death scenes).

The film is all about money and men (the only women are a couple of prostitutes) and to be honest these two subjects don’t always make for a good movie.

Overall, though, it’s worth seeing for some great acting.

However, I’m tempted to read the source novel (Cogan’s Trade) by George V. Higgins just to see what was the original plot.

Film details: Killing Them Softly (18) 94 mins.

Director: Andrew Dominik

Starring: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini

Steve Payne

Screening courtesy of Cineworld Crawley