Andrew Dominik‘s film adaptation of “Cogan’s Trade” is set in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, against the Hurricane Katrina ravaged back streets of Louisiana. The opening title sequence is a series of seemingly random, jarring images and sounds reminiscent of films from the 70s. It’s two parts brilliant, one part WTF and it sets the tone for the next 97 minutes of your
Killing Them Softly is the tale of what happens when three dumb guys decide it would be a good idea to knock over a mob-run poker game. It’s heavy-handed from start to finish, driven more by dialogue than action. But don’t get me wrong. The action in Killing Them Softly is brilliantly shot, with sound engineering that verges on genius. Killing Them Softly is angry and cold.
I’m thinking of one scene in particular. Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) has to take a beat-down for his inaction. It’s raining. It’s night. Every blow, every kick, every strike to his body is conveyed in excruciating detail through slow-motion photography. There’s no score here, no music. Instead, you hear the cracking, the breaking. It’s inescapable and riveting. It’s this style of direction that
sets the violence in Killing Them Softly apart from your average crime flick. The violence is intimate, it’s personal. You can feel it. Dominik’s style keeps you with Trattman through every blow, unable to disconnect from the character and what he’s going through.
At a screening in Seattle, a man in the back of the theater threw up and left before the end of the film. Yes, Killing Them Softy is graphic, but there’s also a message there … if you’re interested. Writer/Director Andrew Dominik lays it on thick, and some will find it self-important, but the heart of it is the disconnect between those who are responsible and those who have to pay the price. It’s a
theme that runs through the film from the title sequence to Pitt’s ending monologue.
“In America, you’re on your own. America is not a country. It’s just a business. Now pay me.”
I’ve never been a hard and fast Brad Pitt fan, but his performance as the enforcer, Jackie Cogan, in Killing Them Softly is solid, iconic and bound to garner attention, comparisons and yes, maybe even a little Oscar buzz. James Gandolfini stars as an aging, off-his -game hit man named Mickey, called in by Cogan to assist. Mickey spends the next three days drunk, holed up in a hotel room going through every prostitute in New Orleans. Gandolfini has the character on lock. There’s nothing original here, but, his comfort in the role lends a weight to the film.
My favorite character actor, Richard Jenkins, turns in a completely sardonic performance as the Driver – the mouthpiece for Cogan’s mafia connections. The conversations between Pitt and Jenkins in Killing Them Softly are high points. Taking place in the tight constraints of the Driver’s vehicle in remote locations, Cogan and the Driver discuss everything from the taking of a man’s life to the banality of accounting. It doesn’t matter. I would watch these two talk about golf.
Killing Them Softly is a dark, dense and disturbing film. There’s heroin use. Prostitution. Robbery. Violence. Murder. And worse still, politics.