Set unsubtly in the midst of the bailing out of the US banking system and the “hope” of the 2008 presidential election, Killing Them Softly launches a hard-hitting, exhilarating tirade against greed and manipulation. It’s a simple gangster story beginning with a back room poker game heist, organised with the intention of making someone else seem like the obvious guilty party. Cogan (Brad Pitt) quietly enters the fray about half an hour into the film as a smart hitman, hired to track down those responsible. We learn he has a conscience and feels uncomfortable killing people when they have a chance to plead and prefers to work from a distance, the exact sort of nitty-gritty, hard edged character details this film thrives upon.
It’s wordy, featuring verbal duels which bounce off each other with fury. Not everything said necessarily serves a great purpose but it all wonderfully illustrates the banality of having a job to do. Everyone’s rather unhappy and underwhelming. Cogan subcontracts one of his jobs to Mickey, an old friend who we expect to seem like a ruthless, slick pro but ends up being played by a weary, overweight James Gandolfini, more interested in spending his nights in the company of prostitutes and drinking liquor than being a gangster. With writing so fine, acting so prudent and a director who really cares to give his audience time to explore the finer points within a shot or in a conversation, it’s constantly engaging.
Review by David Rank
Killing Them Softly is out now in the UK and out on 30th November in the US. Certificate 18 (UK). Running time 97 mins.
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