Killing Them Softly, Andrew Dominik's follow-up to his 2007 masterwork, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, screened in competition for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This gun-toting crime noir about bad men fueled by nothing but the desire for money and reputation is as grimy as could possibly be. But it also has intervals of stylish, bloody violence, sharp dialogue, entertaining black humour and courtesy of Dominik's screenplay, an adaptation of George V. Higgins' 1974 novel, Cogan's Trade, the story has been shifted to the contemporary day - the 2008 presidential election and financial crisis - with a political and national economic subtext.
Trattman, whether he orchestrated this robbery or not, needs to be made an example of or the games will never again commence, but when Russell runs his mouth off, Cogan's attention is soon directed to the three responsible. Along the way he has car-set rendezvous with a go-between (Richard Jenkins, The Visitor) and enlists the help of several acquaintances (including James Gandolfini's once-ruthless hit man brought in from New York, who is now pleasure-seeking, sloppy and physically and mentally inept) who prove to be just as incompetent as the heroes he's investigating.
It was the fantastic final sequence, however, which cemented how all this political chatter tied into the film's narrative. As Cogan claims, America is not made up of a collective group of people, but of individuals. Much like the gangsters who earn their keep and build their reputation by betting in high-stakes poker games, robbing and killing one another, dog-napping and selling drugs, the Nation's politicians are individuals and take personal gambles too. If America is a business, as Cogan claims, then business sure is dirty.
Brad Pitt (also credited as a producer), who has previously worked with Dominik on Jesse James, delivers another performance worthy of his star potential. In my opinion Brad Pitt has always been on his game but over the last twelve months, with Tree of Life, Moneyball (Oscar nominated) and now Killing Them Softly, he continues to mature as an actor and command the screen whenever he is present. His frustration at the ineptitude of the men he is hired to investigate and utilise is written all over his face, and he brilliantly switches between warm charm and cold menace without hesitation.
There are several sequences in Killing Them Softly that are feats of design and style (a hit that makes extraordinary use of slow-motion for example) and the photography is, for the most part, damn fine work. Oh boy, is it violent at times. It is a grueling, barely-watchable ass-kicker. Some use of music - especially the Johnny Cash accompanied introduction to Pitt's character - is effective, but there are others that are equally uninspired. Overall, there are few features that stop this short of being truly great, but in the realm of the genre, Dominik has offered up something odd and unique. With an awesome ensemble cast, headlined by Pitt, this hard-hitting gangster flick packs a punch, and though going about it in a heavy-handed way at times, has plenty to say.
My Rating: ★★★★ (B+)