Starring: Brad Pitt (Moneyball), Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods), Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), Scoot McNairy (Monsters), Ben Mendelsohn (The Dark Knight Rises)
Writer/Director: Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford)
Runtime: 1 hour 37 minutes
Release Date: 21 September (UK), 30 November (US)
Well, here’s one that kind of came out of nowhere. Having heard very little about this movie (mainly due to its delayed release in the US), I went in knowing nothing the trailer didn’t tell me. What I ended up watching was one of the best films of the year.
This is a bleak film. Very bleak. Bleak in almost every single way it could be. There is no relief from the bleakness other than a lot of dry humour, but it’s all about bleak stuff. Did I use the word bleak already? Anyway, the film’s plot is pretty simple once you get right down to it, but it’s all hidden under an odd structure. Our protagonist Jackie Cogan (Pitt) doesn’t show up until twenty minutes in, and the first act of the film mainly focuses on the petty crooks Frankie (McNairy) and Russell (Mendelsohn). It makes sense in the end why the story is told like this, even if it’s initially a little jarring. The film also has a very prominent social and political message, emphasised by the fact the film is set during the run up to the 2008 US presidential election. The constant sounds of Obama talking about hope and coming together as a nation whilst we watch scenes showing the downtrodden and broken slums of New Orleans really puts things into perspective and shows how America isn’t as rose-tinted as its media suggests, which is pointed out heavily during the final scene between Pitt and Jenkins.
The performances by the entire cast are stellar. Pitt is as great as ever, creating a protagonist who is likable despite his trade, mainly because he knows what he does isn’t exactly right. McNairy and Mendelsohn are really great as the inept crooks we follow at first, and I hope they get more high profile work after this. Gandolfini, while still acting as if he’s in The Sopranos, delivers a great performance as a drunken mess of a criminal. Jenkins and Liotta’s parts are minimal but effective, and this is probably the best I’ve seen Liotta in years.
Killing Them Softly isn’t an action movie, but its scenes of violence are brutal and wince inducing. This is mainly down to the incredible sound design; every punch and every gunshot feels real and makes you jerk in your seat. A scene where Liotta gets the crap beaten out of him is particularly memorable and bloody. The film also makes great use of slo-mo (in a way very reminiscent of Dredd) during a scene that combines the three coolest things you can shoot in slo-mo: guns, rain and broken glass. The cinematography is very simple but gloomy, matching the tone of the film. The soundtrack is made up entirely of licensed music, and it fits the mood well.
In the end, Killing Them Softly is a fantastic crime film. It’s filled with memorable moments and great performances from all key players. If it ends up on my Top Ten at the end of the year, I wouldn’t be surprised. Go see it soon; just don’t expect to come out feeling warm and fuzzy (especially if you’re American).
FINAL VERDICT: 9/10