Mendelsohn and McNairy in Killing Them Softly
Killing Them Softly is Andrew Dominik’s third feature film, after the outstanding back catalogue of Chopper and The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. This film is adapted from George V Higgins’ 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade. It is brought up-to-date and set in New Orleans, against the backdrop of the Obama and McCain Presidential elections, and financial meltdown, of 2008. The bungling Frankie (Scoot McNairy; Monsters) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn; Animal Kingdom) are recruited to steal from a mob poker game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is hired to investigate and deal with the culprits. Softly.
The voices and faces of Obama, McCain and Bush are spotted throughout the film via radios, TVs and posters as if to mirror the change and uncertainty in the character’s lives and particularly to highlight the story’s cynical look at the US of A and its capitalist greed. If it weren’t for the election, it could actually be still set in the seventies. It certainly has the feel of a gangster film from that era; slow burning with bursts of violence and a build up to a more frantic final twenty minutes. Dominik does employ some modern film techniques, no doubt, particularly within a rain soaked, sparkly, slow motion assassination full of colliding cars, blood, and smashed glass, obviously echoing the movie’s title, but also making a ballet of violence in a similar vain to Drive and bringing to mind the Snow Patrol lyric, ‘In slow motion the blast is beautiful.’
Pitt is perfect as Cogan; calm, cool, calculated with an aura of danger making him the classic villain protagonist. There are some great supporting performances, too, with Liotta, as the rather hard done by Trattman; James Gandolfini, as a troubled assassin, seemingly going through a mid life crisis; and Richard Jenkins, as the somewhat worn down, yet quite positive, go between for Cogan and the bosses. Our other protagonists, Frankie and Russell, have a good chemistry and while McNairy gets the sympathetic vote as the more likeable character, it is Mendelsohn who nearly steals the show with his comedic turn as a man trying to find the American dream on the streets, with such capitalist ventures as stealing pedigree dogs and selling them to the highest bidder.
Although, this film does not sport an original soundtrack - like Nicks Cave and Warren Ellis’ beautiful score for Jesse James – there is some great music in this, from Johnny Cash to The Velvet Underground to Barrett Strong’s Money (That’s What I Want). The sound mixing throughout is often noticeably off centre, presumably to disorientate the viewer and, if so, it works – notably in the opening credits and a brutal beating against a car in the heavy rain.
Not to sound like a broken record and as if I am living in the past (see Lawless review), but Killing Them Softly is not quite as exceptional as Jesse James. It is, however, a great film in its own right with an originality, atmosphere, political undertone and dark humour that sets it apart from most cinema releases of 2012.
Killing Them Softly is at Broadway until October 4 2012.