The Dark Tale of 'Killing Them Softly'

Andrew Dominik is back, this time with a gritty gangster plot. But does his newest film live up to his previous efforts?

Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly is a dark, gritty gangster film with a not-so-subtle political message.

The story is set in 2008, and the U.S. financial crisis and election serve as a backdrop for this movie about the robbery of a high-stakes card game. Fans of Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino will enjoy Dominik's dark take on the American underworld, but others may find it too graphic and dim. Although not for everyone, Killing Them Softly is a well-made film many will enjoy.

The film centers around a card game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). Several years back, Markie saw an opportunity to knock off his own card game and make a lot of cash. He got away with it but a few years later let the cat out of the bag. Everyone decided to give Markie a pass, but now that he's running another card game, Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) sees an opportunity to stick it up and blame Markie.

Johnny hires Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) to do the job.

Killing Them Softly - Official Trailer (HD)
Everything goes as planned until a few days later, when Russell brags to one of his friends about what they did. Once the word gets out, the bosses know Markie didn't hold up his own game again and there are others to blame. Jackie (Brad Pitt), a smooth-talking hitman, is brought in to clean everything up. He brings in Mickey (James Gandolfini), and everything begins to escalate.

Dominik's last film was the magnificent Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. This film does not live up to that work, nor does it live up to a Scorsese or Tarantino gangster film, but it still has its high points. It's brilliantly shot by cinematographer Greig Fraser, who also shot the upcoming Zero Dark Thirty. It's well-directed. Dominik uses slow motion action sequences that are both graphic and beautiful at the same time. The acting is top notch. Brad Pitt shines in maybe his darkest role ever. Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins and James Gandolfini also turn in superb performances.

Killing Them Softly could have easily been a great film, but one thing keeps it from reaching this goal. It is evident throughout the film that Dominik set out not only to make a good movie, but also to make a political statement. Political speeches by George Bush and Barack Obama are scattered through the film. At one point, two main characters are talking and you can barely make out what they are saying because a political speech is playing in the background. All of this comes to a climax with a speech delivered by Pitt in the last scene of the movie. Pittʼs speech is brilliant, but it is almost a letdown because of all the other political activity leading up to it.

Dominik would have been better off toning down the political rhetoric.
Dominik would have been better off toning down the political rhetoric. This may cause less people to get the point he was trying to make, but it would have made for a much better film.

The reality is that Dominik is a good filmmaker. He has made one great film and one good film. In recent years, with the masters of the mafia away—with Scorsese making a childrenʼs film, the outstanding Hugo, and Tarantino working on a western, the much anticipated Django UnchainedKilling Them Softly may be the best gangster film we're going to see for a long time.

If you like your films dark and dirty, then Killing Them Softly is for you. It presents a world where everyone is in need of redemption. Just ignore all the political talk, sit back and enjoy the ride.

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