Killing Them Softly
by Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)
It is, financially, a huge gamble for a studio to take a chance on a young director without much under his or her belt, but sometimes it pays off. So was the case for Plan B Studios with their newest film, Killing Them Softly, helmed by Andrew Dominik, whose only motion picture directing credits included Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford.
Card game manager Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) had a game knocked over by a couple guys and all the money was stolen. Turns out he set the whole thing up, but because he was well-liked, people let it slide this one time. Long-time wise guy Johnny (Vincent Curatola) wants to stage another game scam, allowing blame to fall squarely on Markie, who won’t be so lucky if it happens again. In order to make the plan work he enlists the help of Frankie (Scoot McNairy), a jittery young crook who is fresh out of jail and flat broke; and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), an Australian junkie who is currently making money by stealing dogs.
The two men are successful, but the mob can’t let this happen and need to clean things up. They call in professional hitman Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to determine how and what exactly went down, eliminate those that need eliminated, and restore order. Helping Jackie is another hitman, New York Mickey (James Gandolfini), and a middle man between Jackie and the mob who doesn’t have a name but is played by Richard Jenkins. Pitt embodies the role of Jackie, a man who is there to do a job and be done with it, and he is good at what he does. Gandolfini is enjoyable in his role of a hitman who has fallen from grace and is now more of a shell of what he used to be. Liotta, with his minimal screen time, completely sells the character of Markie, and as the audience, you tend to feel bad for him…as far as feeling bad for a criminal goes.
Killing Them Softly plays much like many Coen brother films, particularly Burn after Reading and No Country for Old Men. It could almost be looked at like a slice of life film. There isn’t any great climactic element at the end of either act in the film, nor are there any real peaks or valleys. In that regard, the film stays steady with its pacing throughout. Like the aforementioned films, Killing Them Softly is a deeper look into the characters of the story and how they process the situation they are in, how they think through it. Most of the laughs come from every day events that many of us can relate to. It is these “slice of life” events that make the film relatable to an audience watching a film about the need to kill people in order to continue the workings of a crime enterprise.
The film isn’t for everyone. It is by no means a true crime/gangster movie by any stretch of the imagination. It won’t necessarily be a huge box-office smash, but will likely receive Academy Award nominations when Oscar season rolls around. If you’re one for more action and less character development, this may not be the one for you. But if you don’t mind a little more story and the character interaction, then give Killing Them Softly a shot. It’s either now or when the awards roll around, your choice.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars