Director Andrew Dominik previously worked with Pitt in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," an ambitious, meditative reworking of the Western that recalled the works of Terence Malick. For his latest movie, "Killing Them Softly," Dominik takes a stab at another well-trod American genre, the crime flick. Dominik gives this movie plenty of atmosphere, too, but the film's end boils over with a surprising amount of rage directed squarely at American-style capitalism.
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Adapted from George V. Higgins's 1974 novel, "Cogan's Trade," the movie opens with two bottom-scraping grifters getting hired to knock over a local gang-run card game. On paper, it looks like a sure thing; everyone should think that Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) -- the guy who runs the games -- pulled off the heist. Why? Because he knocked over his own game a couple of years prior. Though the robbery is awkward and amateurish, the guys get the loot and make their getaway. At the behest of a nebbish client (Richard Jenkins) who takes orders from a shadowy committee -- "It's all very corporate," he says vaguely -- Jackie Cogan (Pitt) is tasked with setting things right and meting out a brutal form of gangland justice. Initially, Cogan hopes to outsource some of the hits to his old partner, Mickey (James Gandolfini), but he discovers that he's soft, addicted to equal parts liquor and hookers. In fact, much to his growing disgust, Cogan discovers himself to be the only grown-up, however sociopathic he is, in the whole sordid affair.
Dominik nails the gritty cynicism of crime classics by the likes of Scorsese and Lumet. And he can't help but to fill the movie with one gorgeously shot interlude after another. This ultimately bogs down the movie. Fortunately, the Australian director knows his actor. If there's one thing Brad Pitt seems preternaturally good at, it is looking cool while walking in slow motion through the rain.
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The movie's biggest divergence from Higgins's novel is in relocating it from the mean streets of 1970s Boston to New Orleans during the fall of 2008 -- just as the toxic assets hit the fan and the U.S. economy imploded. As we watch Cogan try to clean up one mess left by a couple of mendacious crooks, we hear long sound bites of President George W. Bush and U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson trying to explain the actions of a bunch of other crooks: the ones in a much higher income bracket. It's not an especially subtle choice, and it could throw some viewers. Yet when all that simmering anger boils over at the end of the movie, it's both jarring and strangely satisfying. Think of "Killing Me Softly" as "Jackie Brown" meets the 2010 documentary "The Inside Job," with a lot of gorgeous shots of rainfall at night.
See the trailer to 'Killing Them Softly':