Film review: Killing Them Softly (18)

By Giles Broadbent on September 20, 2012 12:07 PM |


Killing Them Softly
(18) 97mins

Andrew Dominik's impressively slow-burn tale of Mob retribution gives room and rope for the sleazeball characters to go hang themselves.

It's 2008. US election time. Barack Obama is preaching hope and George Bush is throwing money at the banks to keep the economy, and the American dream, alive.

Far from this slick, high falutin' phrase making, a pair of scuzzy, bumbling Keystone crooks figure they're on to a sure thing, taking down a Mob game because they know Markie (Ray Liotta), who did the same thing a while back, will take the heat.

This is capitalism, red in tooth and claw, says director Andrew Dominik. You have a buck, I take a buck off you.

Where's the honest deal, he asks. In a credit default swap, or down in Louisiana where the truth is brutal and comes with a beatin'. Who are the real crooks? Greedy Goldman Sachs or Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) and Frankie (Scoot McNairy), the artless, sweaty hoodlums poking the hornet's nest for an easy dime.

Chief hornet is Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt playing sleazy chic) who has to sort out this mess and restore order.

He calls on Mickey (James Gandolfini) to give him a hand. But Mickey is a sozzled screw-up, facing jail, a divorce and a glass that empties too quickly and fills too slow.

We know this because Mickey tells us. This is a talkie. There is violence, slayings - uncompromising, poetically shot grubby headshots - but the director (who took us into deadbeat minds in The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford) is more interested in the hopes and fears of pitiable sleazeballs trying to make a dishonest day's living so they can get the hell out.

Jackie doesn't like the touchy-feely stuff. He prefers "killing them softly, from a distance" but he still gets dragged in, taking Mickey's miserable, martini-sodden confession and giving Frankie some options.

Elmore Leonard's in there, in spirit, with the rhythmic street slang and the code of machismo. Tarantino too, but if you put two crims in a car tossing dialogue to and fro ahead of a job, Tarantino is inevitable.

And don't forget Guy Ritchie for the arch, stylised direction although Lock, Stock is gloss and varnish compared to this rain-beaten, noirish dinge-fest. Says 2008 on the pack, yes, but the browns and oranges and rusty GTOs suggest the '70s, home of the source material - George V Higgins' pulpy Cogan's Trade.

Dominik does a great job for a film with little plot. He builds character, tension and is happy to let the screen shift to slow-burn to give the druggies time to find their high.

The script is crackling: brimful of one-liners and mordant, slapstick wit, and the cast show they know how to give their blunt-toothed schmucks heart, or at least, purpose.

But, in the end, this is just business pal. Nothin' personal.