Finally, Brad Pitt goes noir and nails the defining role of his career. In the new film, “Killing Them Softly,” Pitt plays a hitman who has no illusions pertaining to his job or the way our country conducts its “business.” It’s all the same to him. Killing them softly refers to the manner in which Jackie Cogan (Pitt) prefers to whack his victims at a distance, because up-close-and-personal gets “embarassing.” When asked to take out some idiots (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) who robbed a mafia poker game, he’s on it.
Seems Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) thinks it’s a brilliant idea to set up Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), the guy who runs the game, and make it look like an inside job. Markie’s done it before so, naturally, the mob will think that he’s at it again and take him out. Instead, the mafia gets wise and calls in Jackie to make sure everything is jake.
Andrew Dominik (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”) writes and directs this brutal, and often hilarious, masterpiece with panache, it’s a thrill to watch. His camerawork is slick and artful. Utilizing slow motion close-ups of gruesome murders set to incongruous music is simultaneously repugnant and beautiful. The dialogue-ridden script is smart, sharp and right to the point.
“Killing Them Softly” scores high marks for casting. Liotta is back on track (nothing notable since “Goodfellas”) as the fall guy who takes one of the most vicious, bone-cracking beatings ever filmed. Richard Jenkins is sublimely effective as a mob lawyer who has the gall to ask Jackie to stop smoking in his car. Mendelsohn and McNairy are so perfectly scuzzy, it’s difficult not to cringe when they’re on screen. But the ultimate coup is James Gandolfini (“The Sopranos”), as an aging, boozing, whore-loving assassin who has some of the best lines in the film. His scenes with Pitt are classics in the making.
The parallels between capitalism and organized crime are not so subtly referenced as the 2008 presidential campaign winds down via bar room television sets. But the politics were all but lost on me. Watching Brad’s cool-bad-cat performance was such an intoxicating elixir, all else paled in comparison.
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