Killing Them Softly (2012)
Director: Andrew Dominik | Runtime: 1h 37mins | Crime, Drama
In the world of underground crime, two low-lives decide to rob a mob-protected poker game. Unfortunately for the two criminals, the mob sends revered hitman Jackie (Brad Pitt) to clean up the mess and find out who did it.
It seems strange now to think someone with the eye of Andrew Dominik has only made three feature films (not including his Music Documentary from 2016), starting out in the early 21st Century with Chopper (2000), and then finding tremendous critical success with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), which was followed up with Killing Them Softly in 2012. The first two harbour two sides to the director, with the first being a jet-black comedy about a criminal, and the other being a historical testament that is rich with beautiful cinematography and a keen eye for actor direction. It seems that for the film that follows both of these, he’s trying to utilise the highlights of both his previous ventures, and give us something a bit different to your average Crime/Thriller caper with Killing Them Softly.
One of the most interesting parts of Dominik’s cold thriller is his insistent use of old snippets from former Presidential speeches to carry his film, usually breaking down the film with strong thematic force aimed towards the economic structure of contemporary USA. This decision is probably the boldest made throughout the film, and despite it feeling slightly irrelevant at first, what follows is a message that’s trying to be voiced crystal clear. In a more humorous example we see Brad Pitt’s Jackie talking costs with a slightly underused Richard Jenkins, deliberating the cost-effects of hiring more than one person for the job and how financially it doesn’t make sense. These sporadic scenes with the two characters often feel out of place, but in retrospect they are perfectly intwined in the crime/commentary mash-up that Dominik is trying to bring to light, and do actually become some of the most rigorous conversations throughout the film.
Much like Richard Jenkins, you could argue that a lot of the cast is slightly underused, which by no means affects the quality on show but rather makes you wish you’d seen more of them (Sam Shephard get’s one scene, which barely even shows his face). Having said that though everyone who’s featured does a pretty great job, Ben Mendelsohn’s turn as a native aussie heroin addict is funny yet sincere, and Ray Liotta does just as well as he does in every other gangster film he’s typecast to. But through all that the shining star is of course the films leading man, Brad Pitt. In many regards this is a different Brad Pitt to the one that usually graces our screens, there’s no wild emotionality, the friendly demeanour is swapped out for the intimidation and in the process commands every scene he’s in.
Arguably the only person who seems to want to outshine him is James Gandolfini’s Mickey, a veteran hitman who’s very clearly seen better days, and while his introduction is bold and on theme, his presence throughout is quickly lost and in fact becomes one of the films biggest downfalls. But it’s not just about performance, there’s some wonderful scenes that in the wrong hands would have been used to very standard effect, but luckily Dominik is a man of great talent who’s creativity and craft makes the films all the better. He brings tension to the opening robbery (while also aiding Brad Pitt in scenes of tension as well) and also shows great stylistic flairs when shooting the violence, and sometimes even just conversation.
This film could have easily been a bog-standard crime thriller with no real intention, and on the other side could have been overzealous with it’s economic message. But Dominik knows where to harness his film for the better, and if you include the artistic flair as well there’s no reason to dislike this film. Along with that we get to see a really great Brad Pitt performance, one that rightly lacks Pitt’s known charm and flirtatious charisma, and instead swaps it for a stoic and show stealing performance that is easily one of the stars best in years.