Right from the start you know that Andrew Dominik is sending you a message of despair.
You can see it from the moment the film starts jumping back and forth between title cards and the long bleak walk that Scoot McNairy (Monsters) takes in a deserted industrial park while sounds of a 2008 Obama stump speech blare loudly in contrast to the piercing wail of the soundtrack.
$#!% is dark, very dark for Scoot’s character Frankie, a parolee looking for a score, ANY score that will get him up on his feet. The closest thing he can come to is knocking over a mob-protected poker game with his heroin addicted buddy Russell (played here by Ben Mendelsohn recently of Dark Knight Rises pedigree). Seems that it looks like an easy mark thanks to the fact that the guy who runs it, Trattman (Ray Liotta), got a pass for robbing his own game and would be the first blamed if it happens again.
Well, you can sort of guess where it goes from there.
Brad Pitt (Se7en, Fight Club) comes in as the mob’s enforcer and people start getting scared, people start acting stupid (as if they weren’t already), and people start dying.
Really, the basic story doesn’t matter.
What does matter is scene after scene of void staring in some of the finest performances I’ve seen by Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods), and James Gandolfini (The Sopranos).
Whether it’s Pitt and Jenkins in the latter’s luxury sedan calmly discussing mob justice with droll cynicism or Gandolfini in a hotel bathrobe musing on his deteriorating marriage and lackluster love-life with various ladies of ill-repute, Killing Them Softly is a poignant character study of desperate men.
It’s not your typical mob movie, being closer to The Departed than Goodfellas (hey, Ray Liotta!), but even that comparison doesn’t do it justice. Divest yourself from its organized crime trappings just as you did the basic story setup and you’ll get my meaning.
Killing Them Softly isn’t even really about murder. It’s about America. Cold, anything goes, dog eat dog, America.
Mercenary, selfish, bitter.
Contrasted with the hopeful rally cries of Barack Obama during the 2008 election cycle and the confidence destroying communiques from George W. Bush as the recession hit full force, it is biting social commentary, never more clear than in the final lines spoken by Pitt’s Jackie Cogan.
I won’t type them here, because they’re best heard in the theater, which I suggest you get to at your earliest convenience… as it is Oscar-worthy.