REVIEW – Killing Them Softly

Smooth criminal
Review by Vives Anunciacion
Published Inquirer Libre December 7, 2012

Killing Them Softly
Written and Directed by Andrew Dominik
Based on the novel Cogan’s Trade by George Higgins
Exclusive in Ayala Cinemas

It’s actually mildly funny. Sure, Killing Them Softly is categorized as a dark (to use a fancy word, noir) crime drama thriller. But in reality it’s a dark comedy about criminals who also must brace themselves against the impending fiscal cliff along with the rest of everyday Americans of the Obama era. Brad Pitt, as mafia enforcer Jackie Cogan, takes a stroll in the park.

This is not your usual glamourized, expensive, 1930s-period mafia dramas, quite the opposite. Interestingly, the film almost entirely features men, which is not to say women don’t hold a place in the criminal underworld.

News clips and radio broadcasts of the financial collapse in Wall Street set this film in 2008 just before Obama was elected president. In the low-income suburbs of Louisiana, a small-time crime boss hires two low-life crooks to raid a gambling den run by a mafia hustler (Ray Liotta) with the intent of making look like the inside job of the hustler. The plan backfires days after, and so the bigger bosses hire Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to set things straight and reestablish criminal order. Veteran actor Richard Jenkins is the Driver who relays the message from above, while The Sopranos star James Gandolfini plays the hitman Mickey. Mickey is supposedly the muscle in Jackie’s operation, but the old-timer just drowns himself in self-pity, booze and prostitutes.

Remember The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford? Same director. Killing Them Softly is equally stylish but in reverse – cool, subdued, at times gritty with the bloody action but mostly darkly humorous. Photographed and edited like a 70’s French thriller, this is a very talky film that has moments of great banter between Jenkins and Pitt. But of course, after Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network, we’re well aware that talk can also be thrilling. As long as it’s written well. With a few suspenseful action moments.

The point is not a shallow story about a cool, suave mafia enforcer cleaning up the bungled job of two stupid criminals. That part of the plot makes Killing Them Softly a short, easy narrative. Setting that small story against an America threatened by a very real economic collapse and suddenly, even a few pennies matter whether the criminals are big or small. The politics of the financial crisis don’t make a strong punch throughout the film, until Pitt’s last line, which is the best part of the film.

Trabaho lang. It’s the economy, stupid.

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