Killing Them Softly Movie Review
Moral murkiness makes this hitman thriller gripping to watch, mainly because we're never quite sure where it's going. Even though it's set in 2008, Australian director Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James) shoots it like a 1970s thriller, which gives the whole film a superb sense of moral murkiness. And since it's based on a 1974 novel (Cogan's Trade by George Higgins), the film has an almost timely feel to it, using offbeat rhythms and complex characters who refuse to do what we want them to do.
At the centre is Jackie Cogan (Pitt), hired by a bookish mafia executive (Jenkins) to clean up the mess after a mob card game was robbed. The problem is that the two guys behind the heist (McNairy and Mendelsohn) are dimwits who have no idea what they've stumbled into. But Cogan is also annoyed by mob bureaucracy, which takes far too long to get anything done. And he's even more short-tempered with his old pal Mickey (Gandolfini), who he brings in to bump off a middleman (Liotta), except that Mickey is too interested in alcohol and sex to get the job done properly. Clearly, Jackie will have to do everything himself.
Pitt plays the role with a terrific sense of world-weary charm. He has no time for the losers around him, but takes pride in his work, preferring to kill his targets softly rather than causing pain. Meanwhile, Gandolfini is playing an alcoholic twist on Tony Soprano, Jenkins is doing his usual officious schtick, and Liotta is a more soulful version of the mafioso he's played many times before. By contrast, McNairy and Mendelsohn are hilariously clueless. Like characters from a Coen brothers movie, they're likeable even though we never have any hope that they'll get anything right.
The story inverts usual concepts of morality by having an efficient killer as the only person in the story who has any real integrity. Everyone else thinks they're in charge of their destiny, but they're not. And the ubiquitous background news reports of the US election and financial meltdown add to the overpowering sense of corporate inaction. As the story progresses, Dominik uses a lively visual style to keep us on our toes. Actually, the plot itself isn't that interesting, but the journeys the characters take grab our attention. Most intriguing is the way our hearts and our heads want things to end in very different ways.