Film Review: Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly is the second collaboration between Brad Pitt and director Andrew Dominik and the end product is gorgeous, tense and gives you a look into the world of criminals you don’t normally see.

Frankie and Russell are small time crooks. Both have been to prison, both live job to job and both are stupid enough to rob a high stakes mob card game.  They know it’s a bad idea, the hitmen will be barreling down on them in days, but they are still going to do it anyway because they think that they finally have a smart idea.  Things go as planned and the heat lands elsewhere, but they didn’t anticipate their hunters to be one step ahead of them or their own stupidity to sell themselves short.  That hitmen they are worried about is Jackie and Jackie knows how to do his job well; kill the blockheads that disrupt the system.

The film can be a slow burn at times, but it is constantly engrossing and ramps up the tension with ease throughout the film.  The set pieces are thrilling when they pop up, but the film is more concerned at looking at the day to day mindset of these crooks and what makes them tick.  The story is small, there are only a few characters we get to know in the film, and that focus allows the film to take its time and really let us get to know these guys through some great performances.

When the film does break away from the gangsters chatting, things can get pretty intense in a hurry.  The early heist at a card game is wonderfully executed and is engaging beyond a, “what’s going to happen next,” kind of way.  The players at the game sizing up our robbers, the game’s runner, Markie, trying to talk his way out of things, the film’s superb sound design playing with the seemingly ordinary sounds, it is all engrossing. The film gives way to a lot of character work from here, but before it gets to the brilliant final few scenes the film almost pauses for some spectacular slow motion carnage.  Things are taken up a notch with a masterfully constructed final act that takes Frankie and Jackie out for a ride.

Brad Pitt is the film’s star but he doesn’t show up for the first twenty to thirty minutes of the film. When he does arrive he sits around and does quite a bit of listening, but Pitt is a fine listener, playing off his counterparts for some of the film’s many laughs. It’s those final sequences between Frankie and Jackie that really set the film ablaze. Pitt is as good as ever in this extended adventure the two have and his speech at the bar is one for the books.  Frankie is well played by Scoot McNairy, in fact he does a fantastic Casey Affleck impersonation.  McNairy is appropriately squirrely and thick accented and he, like Pitt, shines in the film’s final scenes.  James Gandolfini pops up for a couple of scenes as an out of town hire by Jackie and he gives a hilarious and sad performance as a down on his luck gangster that is doing everything to climb deeper.  Ray Liotta also stars as the runner of the card game and his sleazy role is perfectly personified in one luck of dread. Ben Mendelsohn is hilarious as our heroin addicted grunt, Russell, and he is delightfully dim and doped out as he creates a fantastic chemistry with McNairy. Richard Jenkins is solid as always in the straightest role in the film and Sam Sheppard shines in a less than a minute role.

Killing Them Softly is a concise and thrilling crime flick anchored by its excellent performers.  Don’t get caught up on the film’s anti-capitalist message, they are blatantly there, and just enjoy the film for the fun ride that it is. Filled with humor and punctuated by excellent set pieces Andrew Dominik has turned out another great film.  Not your traditional crime film, from a not so traditional director, if you are in the mood for something like that then I can highly recommend this.

Killing Them Softly is an A-

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