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With: Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Vincent Curatola, Ray Liotta, Trevor Long, Max Casella, Sam Shepard, Slaine, Linara Washington
Written by: Andrew Dominik, based on a novel by George V. Higgins
Directed by: Andrew Dominik
MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexual references, pervasive language, and some drug use
Running Time: 97
Date: 21/05/2012

Killing Them Softly (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Crime Scenes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Killing Them Softly is the newest film from New Zealand filmmaker Andrew Dominik, who made one of the best films of the past decade, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert FordBrad Pitt, who played Jesse James, returns for another commanding performance in this one, as Jackie, a modern-day hitman brought in to clean up a messy situation.

Three not-too-bright criminals (Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, and Vincent Curatola) decide to rip off a mob-protected card game, run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), intending to pin the job on Trattman. A mob man (Richard Jenkins) meets with Jackie to decide how to set things right. Jackie brings in a colleague, Mickey (James Gandolfini), to help, but he turns out to be unreliable. So Jackie must do the jobs himself, though he prefers not to get too personal with his targets (he likes "killing them softly").

Dominik, who adapted a 1974 novel by George V. Higgins, sets the action in 2008, during the financial crisis and presidential election. Television broadcasts of speeches by George W. Bush and Barack Obama attempt to underline the movie's cynical themes of corporate power versus community. Jenkins' character complains that the mafia is now run by committee and that it's too hard to get anything done, while it becomes clear that America itself has the same problem.

The movie was shot in New Orleans, giving it a ruined, gutted look that further highlights the movie's themes. Yet Dominik sometimes lightens the mood with playful flashbacks and ironic uses of pop music.

Dominik clearly wishes to elevate Killing Them Softly into something greater than a "mere" crime film. Liotta and Gandolfini bring to mind GoodFellas and "The Sopranos," while fans of author Higgins will be familiar with The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Parts of this movie may even recall The French Connection and Pulp Fiction. However, though the movie fails to noticeably expand or comment upon the crime genre, nor does it achieve its desired depth of social commentary, it has much to admire.

Dominik has a wonderful ear for dialogue. Many of his scenes, which simply involve talking, are mesmerizing. His settings reveal a poetic griminess, and his scenes of violence are quietly, brutally striking. One standout scene attempts to replicate the point of view of a junkie nodding off during a heroin fix.

It's not easy to stand out from the crowded crime genre, but Killing Them Softly confidently ranks as a minor classic.
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