Andrew Dominick is an impressive filmmaker. His debut film Chopper punched its way onto the film world’s radar with its sheer brutal brilliance and put Dominick on the map as a major talent to watch. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford saw him in charge of a major, sprawling Hollywood-funded crime epic.
Killing Them Softly is a tighter, smaller picture, and perhaps not as immediately astonishing as his previous two pictures. It is, however, a fierce and fascinating examination of the criminal underworld in Obama-era America. It’s political aspirations may be a little forced, but the drama and action that surrounds the attempts at topical analysis is never less than blisteringly watchable.
The film is based on a 70s novel – Cogan’s Tirade by George V Higgins – but it has been updated to 2008. Brad Pitt plays a gang enforcer who is investigating a heist that took down a mob-run poker game. The man in charge of the game (Ray Liotta) has been blamed, which leads to a gruesome scene of violence that really does dwell, as the BBFC likes to say, on the infliction of pain and injury.
Pitt isn’t the only intriguing figure in this dirty, bruising picture. Richard Jenkins, Ben Mendelsohn, and an outstanding Scoot McNairy all appear as various visions of dishevelled, disenchanted masculinity in crisis. But Pitt does steal the show (as he nearly always does), particularly in the awesomely effective closing scene which sees the actor delivering a powerful monologue with visceral strength and confidence.
Although it doesn’t quite do enough with the political, social and economical statements it throws around, Killing Them Softly succeeds in being one of the darkest and most arresting films of the year. It’s a chilling reminder of the crime and discontent that still haunts the streets of America, and it tells a fairly simple story with an impressive sense of style and intelligence. This is a picture that certainly deserves repeated viewings.
Killing Them Softly (2012), directed by Andrew Dominick, is distributed in the UK by Entertainment Film Distributors, Certificate 18.