Movie Review: “Killing Them Softly” – Not Soft or Subtle

Written by Jesse Gelinas December 06, 2012

Brad Pitt in "Killing Them Softly"

“Very few guys know me.”

Every now and then a movie comes along that tries to change the rules of the genre. Every now and then a movie comes along and tries to speak to the generation, about society, human nature, and the like. Occasionally a movie comes along and tries to do both. Sometimes it works. “Killing Them Softly” is not quite one of those movies. But it’s certainly a great ride, and enjoyable as all hell.

“Killing Them Softly” revolves around the robbing of a mob-run poker game. The perpetrators are two nobody-layabouts who only do the job because they know it will be blamed on the guy running the game (who is known to have robbed it himself before). Brad Pitt’s Jackie Cogan, a hitman, is called in to investigate and take care of anyone found to be responsible. It sounds simple? It is. The story is not complex, or shocking. There’s no twist to figure out or some big reveal in the third act to shake your foundations. It is straightforward, and almost brutally so.

“I like to kill ‘em softly, from a distance.”

On the surface, “Killing Them Softly” is pretty terrific. Brad Pitt brings his A-game to a role that normally wouldn’t call for much effort. His nihilistic gangster is able to sidestep most of the clichés surrounding the archetype, and is a great baddie to root for. The supporting cast are all top notch. If there was any justice in the world, James Gandolfini would be looking at an Oscar nod for this.  Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn steal every scene they’re in as the two idiots who pull off the ill-advised heist. Ray Liotta gives a solid performance as well, going outside his comfort zone to play a scumbag gangster who gets in over his head… wait a minute.

James Gandolfini with Brad Pitt in "Killing Them Softly"

The writing is fun throughout. The dialogue comes off naturally, and the film never allows conversation to become boring. The soundtrack is great, and the visuals are fresh and creative. There’s a particularly impressive slow-motion scene in the middle of the film that I’d like to see a few more times. The editing can be a tad choppy toward the beginning, but it all adds to this weird, surreal effect the film seems to be going for.

“America’s not a country; it’s just a business. Now fucking pay me.”

Now for the bad. I don’t think anyone in the world watches as much CNN as the gangsters in this movie. In the bar, CNN. In the club, CNN. In the car, News radio. We get it, the story is an allegory for the financial meltdown of 2008. The film spends a number of scenes shoving this point down your throat, by literally having entire speeches by Dubya playing immediately before listening to Pitt make the same points about handling the robbery and public confidence. And if you didn’t get it, don’t worry. Pitt is going to make a big, oddly placed, totally out-of-nowhere speech at the end about the nature of America, capitalism, and society in general. It’s a good speech, well-written, and totally true, but it’s so out of character for this low-level hitman, and at such a random point that it comes off as totally forced.However, it ends on a great line.

Ben Mendelsohn and Scott McNairy in "Killing Them Softly"

Overall, “Killing Them Softly” is a solid gangster film about how to handle a bad money situation that’s more about keeping the public’s confidence than anything else. It has more than a few noteworthy performances, and manages to be enjoyable and entertaining throughout. Brad Pitt proves why he is still a huge star, and we get to see some good, brutal violence to top it off. It may be about as subtle as a brick to the face with a note reading ‘reality’ strapped to it, but it gets the job done.

My Rating: 8/10

Poster for "Killing them softly"

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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