The characters who needed to die in this film were not killed softly. In fact writer-director Andrew Dominik shot those scenes in the noisiest way possible, employing graphic visuals and realistically echoing all shots ringing out as if you were at the side of a gun going off at point blank range, putting strain on every speaker in the cinema hall. But when the dust clears an settles, Killing Them Softly is found to be a little wanting, although a reprieve is found in not being anywhere close to the meditative behemoth of his earlier film starring Brad Pitt as Jesse James.
Adopting from a 1970s novel written by George V. Higgins entitled Cogan's Trade, Killing Them Softly got updated for today's audiences, putting us in the current US Administration and the various cliffs it had to maneuver itself out of. The corruption of capitalism and social tirade made by Pitt's hitman character Jackie Cogan probably summarizes in no less succinct terms, all the criticisms leveled at the system, though pales if in comparison to how Edward Norton's Monty Brogan iconic monologue in front of a restroom mirror in Spike Lee's 25th Hour. It shed some hard truths, being politically incorrect and never mincing its words, which made Jackie's one liners seem all the more hollow.
From the get go, you'd come to expect a pretty unconventional film, with a fairly irritating and jarring opening credit sequence that prepares you to enter a seedy world where an illegal gambling joint, run by Markie (Ray Liotta) is about to get hit. It muddles about for a little while as primary schemer Johnny (Vincent Curatola) enlists the help of Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and reluctantly, his junkie buddy Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) to pull off a job that has opportunity written all over it, no thanks to Markie having to commit an insider job once, and getting away with the heist even when exposed that he was the mastermind.
Richard Jenkins' middle-man Driver character for the mob enters the picture, and engages the services of Jackie to go put things right, where those responsible would have to get pumped with lead. And as with most heist jobs committed by those who cannot keep their mouths shut and their trail clean, it's sooner or later they get found out and tracked, leading all the way back to the top of the food chain. So you'd know how the rest of the film went from a trailer that revealed a little bit too much.
Brad Pitt continues in roles that allows him to be ugly characters both internally and externally, having makeup and costuming disguise his good looks in order to blend and try and pull off a negative role fairly convincingly. In fact there isn't any likeable character in the movie, where justice prevails in a way, even if it's mob justice. Almost single-handedly carrying the film as the rest of the actors are relative unknowns, the film picked up with his character's introduction, and accompanying graphic violence that perhaps was unnecessary, if not to want to shock the unsuspecting audience into awe at its matter-of-fact-ness.
Good production values, brilliant art direction and fine cinematography continue to be hallmarks of Andrew Dominik's film, but here you'd feel short changed at its abrupt ending that didn't go anywhere. It did its job in bringing current proceedings to a close, yet opening another door that left it hanging like an unfinished job. Perhaps it's for artistic reasons to leave an open ending and reminding everyone of the corrupt nature of a business transaction, but this is blatantly hiding its short-coming in shying away from the conventional studio end, and in doing so brought about a certain pretentiousness, and lack of courage maybe, to know how to call it quits properly.