Killing Them Softly is a crime drama written and directed by Andrew Dominic and set in New Orleans during the 2008 US Presidential Election. It stars Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan, a hit-man brought in to investigate a heist that occurs during a mob-protected poker game.
It must be difficult to make a contemporary crime film in a post-Sopranos era, and it’s certainly impossible to make one without dipping into the cast as James Gandolfini and Vincent Curatola among others make appearances here. In Killing Them Softly, Dominic has created a film that traverses familiar ground but takes it from an interesting, amusing and fresh perspective.
Where the Sopranos presented us with a world in which the myth of the gangster living and dying in blazing glory was slowly being faded out by modern issues such as mental trauma, cancer, homosexual gang-members and the difficulty of running rackets with large corporations, Killing Them Softly has built a world in which there is a harmony between the gruff hit-man and the white collar capitalist.
The film contains several long scenes similar to Dominic’s previous film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. In a sort of response to those who critiqued that film’s slow pace, Cogan is a character on the audience’s side, extremely eager to get the action moving but is repeatedly thwarted from carrying out his task in a brisk and efficient way.
Much of the film is told from Cogan’s perspective, eventhough he doesn’t appear until about 20 minutes into the film. The acts of violence Cogan engages in speak to his philosophy on killing as being merely his line of work. They are shown to be distant and abstract to the point that he could almost be signing a document when he fires a gun for all the emotional response he shows.
The film hits one or two bum notes in some rather dull scenes, but this can be forgiven for the amount of quality moments, such as the actual heist towards the beginning of the film and the absurdly matter-of-fact conversations between Cogan and Richard Jenkins’ anonymous businessman over the finances and repercussions of what has to transpire.
Punctuated by political campaign speeches throughout, Killing Them Softly casts a cynical eye on contemporary society more so than on gang-culture, similar to the crime films of the 1930s like Scarface and Public Enemy. It will undoubtedly earn itself a place in the canon of worthy crime films.