Film Reviews

"Killing Them Softly" Movie Review: Crime Is Just Business in Obama's America

An adaptation of George V. Higgins's 1974 novel Cogan's Trade, Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly anatomizes a self-policing underground economy of junkies, killers, and administrators to indict a present-day mainstream world by suggesting that the criminal satellite economy and the "straight" superstructure are functionally the same. It's a movie that shows, and then tells, tells, and tells again, its vibrant conjuring of contemporary cynicism felled by Dominik's lack of faith in his audience's ability to connect thematic dots. The film is set in 2008, giving hit man Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt, on killer-cool autopilot) the chance to scoff at a Barack Obama speech evoking the American dream: "America isn't a country; it's just a business," Cogan declares. Other than deliver that, Pitt doesn't have a whole lot to do. Cogan enters half an hour in, after ex-con Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and his junkie prison buddy Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) have held up a poker game managed by Markie (Ray Liotta). Cogan is hired by a Mob administrator, played by Richard Jenkins, to orchestrate the killings necessary to restore confidence in the underground gambling economy. Cogan tries not to kill anyone he knows face to face (the resemblance of his policy of "killing them softly, from a distance" to drone warfare is among the film's few subtle allusions), so he insists on subcontracting a gunman from New York, Mickey (James Gandolfini). Gandolfini only appears in two scenes, but he gives the film's best performance as a man drowning in masculine/midlife crisis, mooning over a "piece of ass" from his past. This talk is strange, florid, disgusting . . . and really not all that different from the gender stuff dredged up by the just-concluded election cycle.

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Karina Longworth