Pitt makes a ‘Killing’ in grim crime drama
Updated: December 30, 2012 6:35AM
‘Killing Them Softly’
If you thought it was depressing listening to the news during the economic meltdown of 2008, try listening to it as the aural backdrop to this ultra-stylish,ultra-savage, utterly downbeat crime drama.
There have been few happy-go-lucky mob movies, but “Killing Them Softly” goes bigger and bleaker with its wannabe socially significant message. The standard moral that crime doesn’t pay certainly applies, but director Andrew Dominik suggests that nothing else pays either and draws a fairly strained comparison between life in the underworld and America.
Watching an election speech, in which the presidential hopeful states that America is still a land of opportunity, hit man Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) says, “In America, you’re on you’re own; it’s not a country, it’s a business.”
There are times in “Killing” when the amiable yet entirely ruthless Jackie seems almost brilliant, interjecting similar bits of philosophy, which certainly constitute a valid point of view. Remember, pretty much everyone else in this film is either a junkie, an ex-con, a brainless thug or an idiot.
“We’re not the only smart guys in the world,” says ex-con Johnny “The Squirrel” Amato, while urging haste in regards to his plan to rob a mob-controlled card game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). It’s generally known that Markie previously robbed his game and got away with it. Amato figures the mob will surely blame Markie if the game is hit again.
It’s not a bad plan except, Frankie and Russell (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn), the down-and-outers hired to rob the game, manage to telegraph their involvement. Jackie, who’s been brought in to restore order, has to make a bloody example of Markie, Johnny, Frankie and Russell.
It’s not the old days, Jackie observes. He doesn’t know who the top bosses are in Boston and he takes orders from a suit-and-tie criminal lawyer (Richard Jenkins), who tells him the extra hit man Jackie requested must fly coach. The economic downturn has hit the mob hard as well.
Jackie, played low-key, laid-back, yet as mercilessly efficient as the Ebola virus by Pitt, is the rock-solid centerpiece that anchors all the craziness and stupidity generated by the various supporting lowlifes. In what’s beginning to seem a typically understated, yet weighty performance, he gives the film the dramatic ballast it needs to hang together. Especially when the hit man reveals that he doesn’t enjoy the “touchy feely” aspect of his trade. He doesn’t like to kill guys he knows, justifying his request for an assistant to take care of Markie. He doesn’t like all the emotion it entails.
Director Dominik makes a somewhat self-conscious show of several flashy visual set pieces in the film, in addition to his heavy-handed socio-political commentary. It’s the soft-sell moments that ring truest in “Killing,” whether it’s Pitt quietly going about his business or the irony of a guy who ratted on a friend winding up side by side with him in the morgue.~.