Emerging director Andrew Dominick come out swinging in this nonsensical gangland farce.
Based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by award winning post WWII author George V. Higgins, “Killing Them Softly” adds another chapter to the entertaining side of murderous gangland thievery. Although one of the leads is legendary TV mob player James Gandolfini (plays Mickey, the assassin with a late-life crisis) it is mob enforcer Jackie who is at the center of the action. Playing the semi-competent Jackie, Brad Pitt steals the show.
Although some might compare this film to the TV show “Sopranos” with Gandolfini, actually it has much more in common with the 2008 Coen Brothers / Brad Pitt comedic success, “Burn After Reading.” Both films feature mobsters who are disarming in their Abbott and Costello fecklessness.
Viewers like to see this because it helps them believe that organized crime is not really hurting anybody. Ripping off the mob-protected poker game was a victimless crime, at least, according to Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola).
In fact, framing long time dealer Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) for the crime is pretty much victimless, as well. After all, he was no gentleman to begin with, Plus, he already knocked off the game once, himself, and admitted to it. The fact that he is still alive is testimony to the heart and soul that resides in most gangsters.
But that is getting ahead of the story. The fact is, only the dumbest people in the world would rip off a mob poker game, the players in which look like a collection of light-skinned Somali pirates. There is only two ways that could end, and they are both very bad.
So this film is different from writer/director Andrew Dominik (screenplay by Dominik based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by George V. Higgins) previous two, great, films. Neither “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” nor “Chopper” is particularly funny, nor do they have anything close to reassuring endings. They are films about bad decisions that lead to, predictably, bad lives and bad deaths.
Getting back to “Burn After Reading,” this is a film where God looks after drunks and fools. These trained killers are in the stages of their lives where they talk about things, a lot, instead of doing them (although a great act, entirely too much screen time for blubbering Mickey). As opposed to, say, “Goodfellas” wherein Tommy DeVito just kills the kid serving the drinks outright, after a ten-word exchange.
These are thoughtful criminals, and the most thoughtful in the pack is the criminal mastermind known only as “Driver,” played with virtuosity unmatched since John Travolta in “Pulp Fiction,” by Richard Jenkins. If you though casting Brad Pitt as a funny gangster after his role as the about to be killed Jesse James, casting Jenkins as a mobster after his role in “The Visitor” (or, the milquetoast gym manager in “Burn After Reading”) is downright genius. Between the three seasoned killers, Driver, Jackie and Mickey, they can barely come to the conclusion to knock somebody off.
In what has to be the worst neighborhood in America (set in the northern tier rust belt, shot in New Orleans), rip-off artists Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) are perfectly at home. Mendelsohn goes a bit over the top as compared to his modest performance in the Aussie nail biter “Animal Kingdom,” but this film is his time to shine. And shine he does.
Great inner city cinematography by Aussie Greig Fraser(“Zero Dark Thirty,””Bright Star”) showing a dozen of the last places on earth you would ever want to be, and an outrageous sound track featuring extra-amplified bone breaking and body squishing, guarantee a good time. You will run out and buy as many of George V. Higgins’ books as you can get your hands on, and if you have not already, you will run out and get the DVD of Dominik’s “Assassination of Jess James…”. Plus, you may even be inspired to see the under rated “Burn After Reading” (with both Pitt and Jenkins). You have already seen “Goodfellas.”
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Directed by: Andrew Dominik
Written by: Andrew Dominik based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by George V. Higgins
Starring: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins
Release Date: November 30, 2012
MPAA: Rated R for violence, sexual references, pervasive language, and some drug use
Run Time: 97 minutes