Title: Killing Them Softly
Director: Andrew Dominik
Major Players: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini
Out of five? 3.5
If the title makes you think of the Roberta Flack classic, then I have bad news for you. It doesn’t feature in the film at all. The name references a conversation half way through the film where hit man Brad Pitt reveals that he prefers to kill “softly” – in other words, with complete detachment from his victim. Although “softly” is the last word you’d use to describe the way he carries out his job.
When two less than competent crooks rob a mob-protected card game, they soon find that a contract has been taken out on them and everybody else associated with the heist. Hit man Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is hired to clean up the mess but he’s let down by both the former colleague he wants to involve in the job and his mysterious paymasters ………..
On one level, this is a brutal and bloody gangster movie with a straightforward plot involving a group of unlikeable – and, in the main, hapless – characters. But director Andrew Dominik has the higher aim of turning it into an allegory of the Economic Crisis, with the world of crime and corporate business/banking operating in much the same way. Just to reinforce this, Brad Pitt’s character is just another freelancer: brought in when needed by a company, taking orders through one point of contact that come from a committee and then finding they haggle over his fee.
The heist at the card game and the fall-out, with all its blood-letting, represent the collapse of the banks. And, just to make doubly sure that we get it, the film is peppered with background television footage of speeches from George W Bush and the then Senator Obama in 2008 about – surprise, surprise! – the Economic Crisis.
It is, inevitably, a film with a bitter and cynical view on life. This is voiced in Pitt’s final speech, where he declares that “America is a business” but it’s reflected in other aspects of the film. It has a deeply misogenystic tone. Women hardly figure at all and, when they do – either in person or by reference – it is pretty much in one context. Which makes for some uncomfortable moments, if you’re a female member of the audience.
What humour there is in the film is equally bitter, which becomes decidedly mordent in the choice of music. Ray Liotta dies in spectacular and bloody slo-mo to Etta James’ Love Letters Straight From Your Heart. And the final killing is conducted to the strains of Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries.
The film’s greatest strength is its acting, which keeps your attention throughout. Pitt demonstrates yet again just how versatile an actor he has become. He’s not on screen for his looks but his acting ability and he delivers another excellent performance as the clinical, cold blooded and efficient enforcer who is not as devoid of feelings as he might seem. Ray Liotta shows yet again he can do much more than play the psycho. Here he’s smooth, small-time crook who can talk his way out of most difficult situations but who, ultimately, talks himself into his own death. And while the shadow of Tony Soprano continues to hang over James Gandolfini, he’s still effective as a depressed, drink-sozzled one-time hit man who is a shadow of his former self.
Having produced intelligent performances from his cast, I can’t help but wonder why director Dominik seemed hell-bent on underestimating the intelligence of his audience by regularly ramming the message home. This may have been why I found it oddly fascinating. It’s not a bad film – but, inside it, was an even better one trying to get out ……………………………
This review is now available to download as a podcast: http://www.cyberears.com/