MRR 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"

-- Rating: R
Length: 97 minutes
Release Date: November 30, 2012
Directed by: Andrew Dominik
Genre: Drama/Crime/Thriller

"Killing Them Softly" is the type of crime drama that only comes along every few years. With a stellar cast, the film might draw some comparisons to the hit film "The Departed," and many will compare it to "Scarface," but this film manages to stand on its own.

The film tells the story of Frankie (Scoot McNairy, "Argo") and Russel (Ben Medelsohn, "The Dark Knight Rises"), two down-on-their-luck grifters who accept one of the worst jobs in the world. They agree to rob the players attending a high-stakes poker game. The main problem is that Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta, "Goodfellas"), one of the worst mobsters in the town, runs the game. After the robbery, Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") arrives in town with a job of his own: murder the man or men responsible for the robbery.

When Cogan realizes that he has a connection with one of the robbers, he enlists the help of Mickey (James Gandolfini, "The Sopranos"). It doesn't take long before Cogan realizes that Mickey would rather have a drink than pick up a gun, so he decides to handle the murders himself. From that moment on, "Killing Them Softly" is a straight-up gangster film filled with action and violence.

If his first moments on screen are any indication of his talent, Pitt will find himself rewarded with an Academy Award nomination this year. Pitt practically carries the film himself, serving as the main character and the star of the film. Many crime dramas make the mistake of giving the main character a motivation for his actions, but "Killing Them Softly" assumes that the viewers just want to see the action, which is why it ignores any back-story for the character. Cogan is simply a man who kills people for a living, and the director and screenwriter wisely let Pitt take center stage. Though he does occasionally crack a smile or a joke, Pitt is at his best when he is simply a killing machine.

The film gets a boost from the addition of some great supporting actors. Medelsohn has the drug addict look down, occasionally flickering his eyes from side to side and interrupting scenes with a random comment that makes it clear he barely has a grasp on the things going on around him. Vincent Curatola, who made a career playing gangsters on "The Sopranos" and in "Meet the Mobsters," turns up as Johnny Amato, a man also known as The Squirrel, who convinces the two men to rob one of the roughest mobsters around.

Liotta portrays that mobster, and while some might think that it's time he leaves the mobster roles behind, he shows that he can still play a villain like no one else. With a surly look on his face and the hint of a growl in his voice, Liotta makes it clear that no one can create a gangster film without giving him a role. Pitt and Liotta share an amazing chemistry that makes a few of the scenes difficult to watch.

While "Killing Them Softly" is a dark film, it has a few lighthearted moments, thanks to a lawyer with the unfortunate name of Driver (Richard Jenkins, "Burn After Reading"). As an attorney for multiple mobsters, he knows exactly what the characters go through. Cogan is one of his clients, and the moments that the two share are humorous and witty.

"Killing Them Softly" is quite possibly one of the most authentic crime dramas of recent years. Unlike other films that delve into the action quickly, this film takes awhile to get going. Some viewers might find themselves checking their watches early on, because it isn't until the halfway mark that Cogan finally starts the action. The wait is well worth it, if only for the amazing acting from certain characters who do not appear until later in the film.

Once the action begins, many viewers will find themselves emotionally invested in the film. While some might root for Pitt's hitman character, others might find themselves holding their breaths and hoping that Russell, Frankie, and even Markie make it out alive. The director pulls no punches with the action scenes, pushing the camera as close as possible to the actors to capture the pain and emotion in their eyes.

"Killing Them Softly" might be a crime drama, but the film is much more than that. This is a film for people who want to know the inside of the mob world and the moments seldom seen on screen. Between the cast, writing, and directing, this is also a film that will likely earn its share of nominations this award season.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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