Wicked humour on the wild side
Killing Them Softly
Direction: Andrew Dominik
Actors: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta
This spare, at times brutal crime drama marks the second collaboration between Brad Pitt and the New Zealand writer-director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford).
Adapted from the 1974 bestseller, “Cogan’s Trade”, by George V. Higgins, Killing Them Softly transplants the action to the 21st century, or more precisely during Barack Obama’s presidential election and the financial crisis of 2008. The outcome is both a paean to pulp fiction as well as a critique of America’s capitalist environment.
The dialogue-heavy script centres on a taciturn hitman (Pitt) hired to eliminate a couple of crooks. The hapless hoodlums (Scoot McNairy-Ben Mendelsohn, suitably jittery) rob a high-stakes poker game without realising that it was under the protection of the mob.
It’s only a matter of time before the contract killer tracks down the perpetrators of the heist. Mixing wicked humour with extreme, if sporadic, violence the film vividly portrays the cabal of career criminals in all their contradictions.
Among the larger–than-life characters, there’s the hard-drinking, past-his-prime enforcer (James Gandolfini, in a standout performance) and a mob functionary (Richard Jenkins) who brokers the ever-spiraling shootouts. Ray Liotta, who attained a cult reputation for his intense turns in Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild (1986) and Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), is perfectly cast as the bloated gangster suspected of ripping off his own card game.
By the way, the title derives from the hitman’s desire to kill his victims from a distance, “softly”, since he is embarrassed to get up close and personal. Even as Barack Obama’s upbeat appraisal of the country can be heard on the TV in the background, the pragmatic protagonist proclaims, “America isn’t a country; it’s a business. Now f*****g pay me”.
An intriguing account of gangland machinations, Killing Them Softly is highly recommended.