Writer & Director: Andrew Dominik
Starring: Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta and James Gandolfini
Review Written By: Leonhard Balk
This year marks the return of Dominik and Pitt in the form of Killing Them Softly. The homage to classic gangster films garnered a great deal of early awards buzz at Cannes earlier this year. Consequentially, the film's American release date has been pushed back to November, in order to avoid competition from Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master and to be in the public's consciousness during the upcoming awards season.
A smart move on behalf of the film's marketing department, as Killing Them Softly could indeed be a major awards contender. This, ironically enough, is where the film most differs from Jesse James. While Dominik's western boasted an epic running time of 160 minutes, Killing Them Softly clocks in at a comparatively meagre 97 minutes. Dominik's third feature film is both more focused and more character driven. In contrast to Jesse James, which lingered lovingly on it's stunning landscape shots, Killing only utilises a handful of ordinary locations and takes place in the time-span of a few weeks.
Brad Pitt, looking slick in a leather jacket and a scruffy goatee, plays Jackie Cogan, a professional hitman. Cogan is hired to investigate a poker game heist performed on the town's most notorious and powerful crime lords. Surprisingly enough though, Pitt doesn't carry the bulk of the film's screentime. The real lead of the film, low-level con-man Frankie, is played by relative newcomer Scoot McNairy. Frankie finds himself out of a job and desperate to earn money. His moral ambiguity and financial struggles fit in perfectly with the film's overarching theme: America's struggling economy and loss of identity. The film takes place during the Obama/McCain election year, the year of the recession. Dominik uses this backdrop to great effect, as he populates his film's world with lost and despairing characters:
Ray Liotta's mob boss Markie Trattmann finds himself schemed against by his friends and colleges, he experiences first-hand what it is like to be distrusted in a modern business, albeit a corrupt one. He is the businessman, who loses all his power and influence in a matter of days, and ends up fighting for his life.
Mickey, played to perfection by The Sopranos' James Gandolfini, is called in by Cogan to help out on the hit. Heralded by Cogan to be a safe professional, it soon becomes clear that Mickey is in fact not up to form and fighting with inner demons. He is dumped unceremoniously by Cogan and we never hear of him again. He represents the elderly professional, who has fallen on hard times and is unable to keep up with his competitors.
And lastly, there are Frankie and Russell, eager to make a name for themselves. They will do anything to rise above the poverty on the streets. Their entrepreneurial spirit is sadly misguided as they enter a world of violence, which they weren't prepared for.
Standing above it all, distant and coldly judging, is Brad Pitt's Jackie Cogan. He personifies the new America. A lone wolf, making a profit from the misfortune of others.
By Movie Parliament Minister for History,
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