Killing Them Softly
In adapting George V. Higgins’ 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade, writer/director Andrew Dominik updates the action to 2008 and lays on the political allegory as gangsters moan about financial restrictions and colleagues’ poor work ethic while the global markets crumble. Though perhaps too overt in its satire, there’s certainly enough wit and fire to sustain what is, at its heart, an exhilarating neo-noir.
Opening with low-level scumbags Frankie (McNairy) and Russell (Mendelsohn) knocking over connected dimwit Marky (Liotta)'s criminally-populated poker game at the request of rival mobster Jonny Amato (Vincent Curatola, aka The Sopranos’ Johnny Sack), Killing Them Softly nails its grimy, hard-boiled colours to the mast from the get-go with its knowing rat-a-tat exchanges and rain-soaked squalor. Following the brilliantly sustained tension of the boys’ heist, things sour for Frankie and Russell as enforcer Jackie (Pitt) hits their trail.
Dominik’s picture is, on one level, a wordy and stylish examination of outdated machismo and an underground 'industry' trying its best to keep up with an ever evolving financial and social landscape; at the other, a treatise on the ever quickening decline of a once thriving nation and economy. As one, it delivers as an engrossing crime fiction with a nice streak of gallows humour. In a film marked by wonderful performances, Pitt dominates as the magnetic and pragmatic Jackie; his tête-à-têtes with mob lawyer Richard Jenkins deconstructing genre tropes stand out, as do the leisurely paced, emotionally charged encounters with depressive hit-man Mickey (the deliciously monstrous Gandolfini). A weasely McNairy and repugnant yet bizarrely charismatic Mendelsohn (building on a reputation forged in David Michôd’s excellent Animal Kingdom) also make the most of their lengthy share of screen-time, almost stealing the show from their wizened, more celebrated co-stars.
Despite the overuse of radio and television footage of Bush, Obama and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s panicked rhetoric, and a couple of set-pieces which, while technically bravura, seem somewhat incongruous amongst the grit of the whole, Killing Them Softly is further vibrant and interesting work from a filmmaker yet to produce anything ordinary. [Chris Fyvie]