At first glance from trailers and teasers, Killing Them Softly looks like a slow-moving film with a couple action scenes here and there, with nothing much to offer to the moviegoer audience. That is a dead wrong statement, for Andrew Dominik’s film is a strong hidden gem that not only keeps your attention throughout, but also requires it.
Based on the 1974 novel “Cogan’s Trade” by George V. Higgins, Killing Them Softly takes us to a Boston neighborhood, around the time of the 2008 Presidential Election and the beginning of the financial crisis. During the opening credits, the film abruptly cuts between one of Obama’s first “Hope” speeches and a destitute area of Boston.
After two thugs rob an underground criminal poker ring and making it look like its own proprietor Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), the mafia enlists Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), a local hitman, to kill the men responsible and to restore confidence in amongst local thugs and mobsters by killing Markie, in order to keep the card games going.
Right off the bat, Killing Them Softly has so many things going for it that it’s harder to say what’s wrong with it, if anything at all. Performances first, Brad Pitt gives a brilliant, subtle performance. However, this is more of an ensemble film, and literally every performance is excellent. James Gandolfini is brutally hilarious as Mickey, a fellow hitman who’s addicted to drinking and prostitutes. While his scenes were brief, they were still memorable enough to stick with you til the end. Richard Jenkins who plays Driver, the contact between Cogan and the mafia, delivers another great performance, as well as Liotta.
Dominik has put together a film whose technical aspects are just as good as its on-screen ones. The sound mixing in this film is one of the more visceral and realistic ones this year. In one scene where some mafia goons are attacking Markie, the sound in the scene is brutal. Every punch and body hit is amplified and cringing. It doesn’t sound like a Hollywood fight scene, it sounds like an actual fight scene. There are many other scenes in the film that play with sound in order to make you feel more in the moment, making the film that much better.
What Dominik has also achieved with the film is that it could have easily been a story about Jackie Cogan killing some guys, but it’s more than that. This film is easily a character study of not only Cogan’s life as a hitman, but how frustrating and complicating it can be as well. Some of the best scenes are where Cogan and Driver are sitting in Driver’s car, talking about how to take care of the situation in the most casual way possible. The film is easily structured like a play, with scenes about people rather than the situation. To some it may seem a slow pace, but Domink’s dialogue keeps you engaged throughout.
When given the chance, Killing Them Softly is a film that offers something else rather than the typical Hollywood movie. It wasn’t nominated for many awards (although it should be), but it’s still one of the top films of 2012, and over time people will notice its brilliance.