Set amongst the furore of the 2008 American Presidential race in Katrina ravaged New Orleans, Killing Them Softly tries to be both a hard-as-nails gangster movie and a cutting satire of America’s failing jobs sector. Unfortunately the juggling act between cerebral reflection and ruthless violence never really quite finds a good balance.
The film’s plot, on the surface is fairly simple – two down and out no hopers fresh out of prison – Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (played by Australian actor Ben Mendhelson) pull a job on an illegal poker game, then the mobsters who get robbed want them dead. Simple enough right? Or not, as things soon get a little complicated.
This is where Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) comes in, a mob enforcer and gun for hire. Pitt is absolutely immense in this film; bringing a believable weight to Cogan the cold blooded hitman with a savvy head for business. In every scene Pitt acts as the pivot around which all other actors in the film play off. In particular, his scenes with Mickey (James Gandolfini) are some of the film’s highlights.
The biggest problem with this film is its length. I rarely complain about a film being too short but this one definitely, DEFINITELY is. The story jumps in at a random point in the story and then hurries through to a conclusion. So many things happen to the characters off-screen that the audience is not privy to. It is no surprise that this film’s original director’s cut came in at over two hours in length.
Also, considering this film is based on a novel praised for its authentic use of criminal language and slang, a lot of the dialogue in the film, while wonderfully delivered comes across as fairly standard, run of the mill mob movie stuff. It wouldn’t have been a problem had Killing Them Softly not made such a big deal out of using it in the first place.
There is a lot to like about Killing Them Softly, particularly the cast. Yet this is a film that could have been really great, but in the end isn’t quite. Unfortunately in trying to appeal to fans of both mob movies and sweeping satirical statements, it ends up falling a little short on both fronts.
Verdict: Three Stars
Good For: People who love lots of Brad Pitt, or the sound of Ray Liotta vomiting blood.