Movie Review: Killing Them Softly

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A 2012 crime thriller starring Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta and James Gandolfini. Based on George V. Higgins' novel of the same name. Jackie Cogan (Pitt) is a professional enforcer who investigates a heist that went down during a mob-protected poker game.

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Movie Review: Killing Them Softly -- “Killing them Softly” is a term I never really understood but I guess if one would need to kill softly Brad Pitt’s character in writer-director Andrew Dominik’s adaptation of George V. Higgins “Cogan’s Trade” and follow-up to “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (a fine western that seems to have more syllables in it’s title than days it spent in theaters) would fit the bill. The Weinstein Company has positioned “Softly” as its Oscar hopeful. It’s not going to make it. But the movie works fine and there are two really good performances here.

One comes from Pitt, playing an assassin named Jackie who is about as low-key and methodical as a thug gets. Jackie is called in when a card game is robbed by two low-lifes: one down on his luck (Scoot McNairy) while the other (Ben Mendelsohn) a two-bit drug-addict who gets by by doing the same dog-napping scam done in “Seven Psychopaths”. The card game is run by Markie (Ray Liotta), a guy known to have paid others in the past to rob his games and split the profits with him. Did he do it again with these guys?

The movie is an odd mix of tough-guys, tough talk, slow-motion executions, beatings, and drugs (very Guy Ritchie-Quentin Tarantino-esque) with not-so-subtle emphasis on the financial climate in “08. Footage of the Obama-McCain election and Bush approving of bail-out money is also used in the background. Apparently the recession has hit criminals just as hard, but really only makes you think, haven’t criminals always been hard-up for cash?

But Dominik moves the film at an entertaining clip; every once in a while the suspense ratchets up while other times conversations between characters are so good that you can’t help but be carried away with them. I loved the talks between Pitt and Richard Jenkins, playing Jackie’s handler, which involves money matters as well as political correctness among thugs. And James Gandolfini, playing another hitman Jackie hires to help with the job, gives the film’s second best performance, playing a downright repulsive man whose life has only become tragedy. Mr. Soprano makes you feel the pain, and reduces the character to a pathetic shell.

The point of “Softly” doesn’t really work, but that’s not to say that the screenplay or the performances let that get them down.

Final Grade- B