“Killing Them Softly” appears to be a typical crime drama. Amateur criminals rob an illegal poker game held by big time gangsters. These small time crooks have big dreams of moving up in the crime world, but they have a flaw. They don’t know how to keep their mouths shut. This story has been seen before and in most cases comes across as recycled and trite.
While “Killing Them Softly” does have a familiar feel to it, what sets it apart from past gangster films is that the film is layered against speeches from George W. Bush, John McCain, and Obama. This causes the audience to make connections with what is happening on screen to the financial crisis of 2008, turning “Killing Them Softly” into a social commentary on the handling of the economic downfall in America between the end of the Bush era and the beginning of the Obama administration. Each level of criminal represents a different level of social class. The small time robbers are the lower class trying to make something of themselves, the card game holders and hit men represent the middle class doing the majority of the work with little pay off, and the unseen big time gangsters are the corporate elites reaping the benefits from the work of the rest.
This is Andrew Dominik’s third film and it follows his critically acclaimed “Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” Dominik creates a mood of intensity by not playing any music during the poker game robbery or the murder scenes. This creates a feeling of reality to the movie which can make the audience uneasy and nervous. Dominik leaves little to the imagination by showing the murders in raw form. Dominik also wrote coarse yet realistic dialogue that helps to define the people and their setting by de-exaggerating the context and showing what they were like in their natural setting. This helps the audience understand each character and get a grasp for their personality traits and character flaws. Dominik also did a great job of casting with Brad Pitt in the lead and supported by Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, and Ray Liotta.
This is Brad Pitt’s second time to work with Dominik. Pitt stars as Jackie Cogan, hired gun to help solve the economic crisis that is hitting the “corporate” gangsters. Jackie Cogan is an outsider who continually comments on the bad business practices and stupidity of the other criminals. Cogan is annoyed by the bureaucracy of the corporate gangsters, whose decisions are mediated to Cogan by way of one of my favorite supporting actors, Richard Jenkins, who is known throughout the film only as Driver. In case the economic theme isn’t clear enough, Jackie Cogan comes flat out and tells the audience after Driver points out Obama on television, “This guy wants to tell me we’re living in a community? Don’t make me laugh! I’m livin’ in America, and in America you’re on your own. America’s not a country, it’s just a business.”
While I thoroughly enjoyed this film and find it fairly original when placed in its intended context, I do not see it winning any awards this season. I also realize that this movie is not going to be for everyone and so it is hard for me to recommend it. If the concept interests you and coarse language and gruesome violence doesn’t bother you, “Killing Them Softly” is worth checking out. Otherwise wait for DVD or skip it all together.