Title: Killing Them Softly

Director: Andrew Dominik (‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’)

Starring: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, James Gadolfini, Scoot McNairy (‘Argo’), Ben Mendelsohn (‘Animal Kingdom,’ ‘The Dark Knight Rises’) and Vincent Curatola (TV’s ‘The Sopranos’)

Shooting an exciting, realistic film that reflects how people truly act and speak when they become desperate to make money and to redeem themselves in an economic crisis can be a challenging task, especially when it’s based on a novel that was released almost 40 years ago. But esteemed crime filmmaker Andrew Dominik created a memorable new drama that mixes diverse characters who have differing motives with stunning visual effects that highlight modern capitalist ideas. The filmmaker’s new crime thriller drama, ‘Killing Them Softly,’ which is based on author George V. Higgins’ 1974 crime novel ‘Cogan’s Trade,’ follows criminal characters who want to make fast money, as they’re affected by the current economic crisis.

‘Killing Them Softly’ follows Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola), a longtime hanger-on in the criminal world, as he comes up with a seemingly fool-proof plan to rob a mob-protected card game. To complete the theft, he hires Frankie (Scoot McNairy), a young crook who was just released from jail and is broke. Frankie persuades Johnny to also bring on Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), an Australian junkie whose latest criminal enterprise involves dog theft. Their plan to make fast money in the broken-down city of New Orleans is unfolded against the presidential politics and America’s financial crisis of 2008.

The tree feel certain that their plan will go on without any problems, as they think the mob will assume the game’s regular dealer, Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), devised the plan, as he robbed it once before. Frankie and Russell do indeed manage to pull off the heist without being recognized. But the mob immediately begins investigating the robbery by bringing in experienced enforcer, Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt). He aims to restore the status quo and prove that no one can capsize the local criminal economy.

While bringing his customary professionalism to the job, Jackie finds himself navigating complications, including a client who communicates through a middle-manager and driver (Richard Jenkins). Jackie also hires the trusted hitman Mickey (James Gandolfini) to kill one of the robbers, but he turns unpredictable. In the end, it’s up to the efficient Jackie to get the job done right.

Dominik effortlessly and realistically updated ‘Cogan’s Trade’ to reflect America’s modern economic problems. Frankie and Russell’s successful robbery of Markie’s card game is one of the problems that contributed to the crisis in the criminal economy, as the mob leaders were failing to regulate their money. Frankie and Russell only care about getting more cash, and are driven by their need to make money quickly to support their lifestyles. While the two unsympathetically don’t care how their actions will hurt Markie, who they set up to take the blame for their actions, they fail to realize how their criminal activity is further contributing to their unhappiness and unease about fitting into society.

Dominik made a smart decision to show the story from both the robbers’ and the Mafia enforcers’ points-of-views, as it provides all the characters with protagonist and antagonist characteristics. Frankie and Russell are shown to be victims of circumstance, and will do anything to make money so that they can have a better life. Frankie, in particular, doesn’t want to rely on Russell and Johnny to pull off a crime to make money. But he felt it was his only option after not being offered any respectable legal jobs after being released from jail, and has moments where he questions if he’s doing the right thing. Russell, meanwhile, isn’t physically or emotionally stable, as his only concern is to raise money to buy more drugs. He hears Frankie’s concerns about not getting caught, but Russell embodies the true personality of a drug addict; unlike his partner, Russell doesn’t want to embrace the true American dream of having a true job and family.

While Frankie and Russell have a more unpredictable nature, Dominik portrays Jackie as being more in control of his emotions and actions. Pitt plays the mob enforcer as having the foresight to do what needs to be done in order to catch the robbers, especially after Mickey refuses to follow his directions on finishing the hit on the robbers. While Jackie questions the driver’s orders in their car rides together through dialogue that shows they’re complicated characters with troubled pasts, he’s really intent on making everything perfect. He respects the driver’s orders, but when someone else isn’t following his instructions, he can easily and respectively kill them or take them off the job without any complications.

Dominik also featured impressive and unique stunts and visual effects throughout ‘Killing Them Softly,’ which truly emphasize the dramatic and serious nature of the violence the mob is willing to inflict in order to regain control of the local criminal economy. One scene that truly stands out is the sequence in which Jackie personally takes vengeance on Markie. While Jackie begins to suspect that the card dealer wasn’t responsible for the latest game heist, the enforcer still wants to make an example out of Markie. Jackie shoots at Markie through his car window, and the glass sprays around the card dealer in slow motion, as the camera catches his realization that his life is in danger.

‘Killing Them Softly’ is a realistic, sleek, contemporary update on Higgins’ story to reflect America’s current economic problems. By showing the motives and personalities of all the characters through strong dialogue and a realistic plot framed around an economic crisis and a failure to regulate capitalism, the crime thriller drama effortlessly shows how unhappy people can be when they’re only motivated to make more money. With the help of stunning visual effects, the film rightfully forgoes moral values to show what people accede to in order to make money.

Technical: A-

Acting: A-

Story: B+

Overall: A-

Written by: Karen Benardello

Killing Them Softly (2012) on IMDb

Killing Them Softly Movie Review

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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