‘Killing Them Softly’ stars Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan, an enforcer employed by the mafia to restore confidence in the underground gambling trade after two robberies destabilize their illicit activities. The first heist was organised by Markie (Ray Liotta) the mobs gambling coordinator. To execute the crime Markie uses Frankie, a small time crook and Russell an Australian drug addict. One night Markie has dinner and drinks with pals and confesses’ that he organised the hold up. Another small time crime boss, Squirrel uncovers this truth from Frankie. Squirrel suggests they rob another card game, making it seem like Markie was involved once more. The mob suspects that Markie was guilty the first time but let him off the hook after the second hit they task Jackie Cogan to take stronger action and bring the culprits to book.
The film is based on a 1974 novel by George V. Higgins but unlike the book the location is moved from Boston to New Orleans at the start of the economic downturn in 2008. ‘Killing Them Softly’ attempts to parallel the modern economy with organized crime. This parallel is interesting but weakly executed. Writer and director Andrew Dominik is in your face when drawing the connections between the two worlds. Without nuance or depth the movie uses televised political debates of the 2008 presidential election and the fallout of the banking crisis as backdrops to try and force a larger context for the film.
Dominik superficially tacks on a grand narrative to a simplistic gangster story that is crushed beneath pretentiousness. The characters play too easily into gangster stereotypes of violence, profanity and coolness. The dialogue, Jackie’s especially, comes across as indulgent and contrived. The film has a grim yet captivating art direction and cinematography, which will appeal to lovers of gangster films. Unfortunately the film is suffocated by pointless violence, superfluous dialogue and dead end characters that are gangster for the sake of being gangster and a story that craves power, swagger and depth but has none of these.