Killing Them Softly has the kind of script that, in lesser hands, and with lesser actors, could have been laughably bad. But director Andrew Dominik, the man behind the excellent The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, never blinks as he unfurls this ultra-violent, very modern tragedy.
Set against the backdrop of a post-financial crisis east coast America, a rudimentary heist unfolds to a soundtrack of Barack Obama and George Bush’s pre-election speeches. The opening scene shows the iconic Obama “Change” poster looming like an Orwellian dictator over decaying, repossessed houses – subtle it ain’t. And just as trust in the “system” reaches rock bottom, so it breaks down among the various Mob “faces”, who look back with rose-tinted glasses at the good old days, when the crime families ruled with an iron fist and they didn’t have to haggle over the price of a contract killing.
The dialogue zips along at breakneck-speed, especially the frenetic, misogynistic banter between hapless low-lives Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) and Frankie (Scoot McNairy).
Brad Pitt’s character, who arrives after the half-hour mark, is a stark, ghostly contrast to the rest of the cast as a cold, detached but thoughtful contract killer. Other star turns include Ray Liotta (who looks increasingly like he’s wearing a rubber Ray Liotta mask) as the hapless Markie, a moribund James Gandolfini and a wickedly detached Richard Jenkins.
The whole thing recalls an early Tarantino movie: slick, zingy and featuring as about much graphic violence as you can squeeze into 97 minutes.
First published in City A.M.