It’s not often you get a movie set against the political and financial upheaval of America’s recent past, that also happens to deal with the world of hitmen, stick-up artists and wiseguys talking smart and dying cheap.
The plot is as thin as the high string on a regular six string guitar: a couple of guys Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) stick up a card game protected by the mob. In these trying financial times (video of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama defending fiscal choices play on television sets throughout this movie) that single robbery sends ripples through the underworld economy. So a killer (Brad Pitt) is sent into town to sort the thieves out. And yes ‘sort them out’ means exactly what you think it means.
I’ve given way more background than is necessary about this movie in the single paragraph that preceded this one. I say that because Killing Them Softly isn’t about its plot. It is about mood, and setting, and the characters that populate this rundown part of America not often seen in the movies. The colour palette is all muted browns and greens, nighttime sequences are blue and black with the reds of car taillights shattering the peaceful coexistence of the aforementioned blues and blacks.
And the characters, oh yes the characters. They are rundown, down-and-out sorts who are more pathetic than they are scary. They steal because that is the only way for them to get by. And the mob sends someone out to kill them because it makes good business sense to do so.
This is poetic filmmaking. And I gotta say director Andrew Dominik (who also adapted this movie from a book by George V. Higgins), as well as his cinematographer Greig Fraser and editors Brian A. Kates and John Paul Horstmann did a great job of telling a tale that is so rich in atmosphere. The performances by Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Scott McNairy and Richard Jenkins are really ace. Pleasure to watch–not always comfortable viewing–but a pleasure nonetheless. We don’t get that too often.
Final Analysis: Killing Them Softly is the kind of movie a Tarantino-wannabe should make so that nobody ever calls him a Tarantino-wannabe.
My Advice: Seek this one out, turn off your phone, log off the internet, and just allow the mood to wash over you. It really is quite something to behold.