If nothing else Andrew Dominik wants at least one concept to be on your mind when you walk out of KILLING THEM SOFTLY- economy, economy, economy, economy. Never mind the fact that Brad Pitt is chewing up scenes and trying out his anti-Anton Chigur performance- the real issue we should all be focused on is that it is damn tough to make an honest living, hell, even a living as a hitman isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The truth of the matter is that as much as I really loved Dominik’s film, it is impossible to walk out of it without rolling your eyes at least once at the constant onslaught of political messages regarding the state of the economy- for me, by the end it became somewhat of a reflex.
It’s not even that I don’t agree to a certain extent- I even nodded in agreement at the end of the last monologue in the film, but to a lot of people the persistence of the message is extremely heavy handed. I also can’t say that it isn’t a breath of fresh air to see the glitzy Hollywood-ized vision of a contract killer/hitman lifestyle scrapped for something a little more stripped down and “realistic.” This isn’t dime store shoot em’ up cinema by any means, but there’s definitely something about it that’s easier to digest and gritty at the same time.
The plot is simple- two guys knock over a secret Mob enforced poker game and the Mob subsequently send, Jackie (Brad Pitt), in to track down and take care of everyone responsible. With a premise that light it takes a pretty sharp script to keep the energy flowing and that’s exactly what Dominik’s script- adapted from George Higgin’s novel “Cogan’s Trade”- excels at. There does tend to be an excessive amount of needless storytelling in a couple scenes involving James Gandolfini’s character, but the dialogue in those scenes is funny enough and interesting enough to overlook. A special shout out to Ben Mendelsohn for solidifying his place as the single most disgusting looking character in any movie I’ve seen this year.
Pitt stands out from the rest of the cast-largely because he’s Brad Pitt, but also because he does a pretty great job with the material. At times he employs a lot of the same mannerisms as his Billy Beane performance in MONEYBALL yet he still manages to pull off a hitman that, while predictable at times, has hints of being genuinely threatening and darkly comedic at the same time. Every role in the film is laced with extremely dark humor and it all shines because the dialogue flows so well- and in a film with this much talking, that’s an extremely important piece of the puzzle.
KILLING THEM SOFTLY isn’t action packed, but it’s exciting to watch- the violence for the most part is quick, but packs a punch and it is more than a tad alienating in its political approach. Dominik’s script is fantastic and the performances are great, but somewhere along the line someone should have stepped up and said, can we maybe cut out a few of these radio/TV economy speeches? In the end that was my biggest issue with the film- excess does not enhance and in the case of KILLING THEM SOFTLY it hinders its own message. In spite of my reservations over the abundance of money talk, I really love this movie and found myself constantly loving the extended scenes of dialogue and the pitch black moments of humor. A crowd pleaser this is not so be warned before buying those tickets based on the Pitt factor.