Based off the novel ‘Cogan’s Trade’ by George V. Higgins, Killing Them Softly is writer/director Andrew Dominik‘s third feature film, and is the story of Jackie Cogan, an enforcer hired to restore order after three dumb guys rob a Mob protected card game, causing the local criminal economy to collapse.
Dominik’s last film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford also starred Brad Pitt, who plays Jackie Cogan here. Both films have are very stylistic and unique, using a simple shooting method and color palette that creates a very specific mood in the films. For a lot of people, this mood will be a boring and bland one, for the dialogue and screenplay are also very simple and slow. If I had to choose one word to describe Dominik’s past two movies, it would be ‘slow’.
Now, in his last film, I thought that the tone and style worked wonderfully and beautifully paired with a haunting soundtrack from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. In Killing Them Softly, however, the style and method of production are in the same vein, but it does not succeed in creating any real drama or emotion or power. I still really like the style that Dominik uses, the content matter just doesn’t have enough in it to drive the film. I could tell you the exact plot and happenings of the story in one sentence, which is never a good thing. There is also this strange sub-content with quotes from Barack Obama and George W. Bush that semi-culminates in the final scene that I just don’t get.
The characters and actors in the film are just seem to be placeholders. All of them other than pit are renowned character actors, all playing their usual characters. Richard Jenkins as the disconnected man in charge, and James Gandolfi and Ray Liotta as the mob guys. Scoot McNairy even looks and acts extremely close to Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James. There is nothing interesting to find in either the characters or the actors’ performances.
The film does achieve some things that I really liked: the violence in the film was surprising, shockingly real, disgusting, and sometimes scary, which I appreciate in a media world filled with PG-13 comic book action. There was some humor, the slow motion gun firing scene was a spectacle that I thought fit the style wonderfully, and the ending line was awesome.
1/4 – Andrew Dominick repeats his dark, unique film style in Killing Them Softly, but fails to create a story and characters to drive through the dreadfully slow pace of his technique.