This is a modern film noir mob movie that tries to be Pulp Fiction (Tarantino 1994) starring Brad Pitt who is great (he always is). Based on George Higgins’ 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade (the film title is better) it has Obama audio tracks playing throughout which gives it immediacy and a wake-up-call reality check. Andrew Dominik directs, the guy who brought us The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford which also starred Pitt, so maybe there is chemistry.
There’s not much chemistry here though, well maybe exploding beaker chemistry, and softly they ain’t killed. It is viscerally violent (the sustained ‘discipline’ of Markie Trattman played by Ray Liotta is not pleasant and all-the-more brutal with the perpetrators relational empathy). With ‘friends’ like this, who needs enemies? Lots of exploding brains in cars (ala Travolta and Jackson in Pulp). It has loads of top-end swearing and one completely unnecessary scene of wall-to-wall Fs that jars and adds nothing to the film (an Editor please). I kept waiting for the movie to kick-in, redeemed (only slightly) by Brad Pitt’s eventual appearance well in to the story line. It needed some structural scene re-allocation in my view. Jamie Wynen (The Story Dept.) agrees, “If you’ve got a powerful, flawed, empathetic protagonist, why would you introduce him well into the second act?”
James Gandolfini (chief Soprano) gives a fantastic performance as the contract but sozzled cynical and worn-out NY hit man Mickey who has to travel Economy to his killings.
Synopsis: Some petty crooks rob a Mob-protected card game (it happens twice). The local criminal economy is undermined. Brad Pitt (Jackie) is a suave, no-nonsense but empathetic (yet lethal) enforcer hired by the upper echelons (“Dylan“) to track the perps down and restore hierarchical ‘order.’ His liaison is brilliantly played by Richard Jenkins, the dead Dad of Six Feet Under, who is worldly-wise, dry and on the take. Pitt and Jenkins have some wonderful car cab dialogues about the extent and justification of various levels of violence.
The whole movie is a metaphor for the corruption of the American capitalist system (Wall St, banks, investment brokers) pitted (haha) against the visceral needs of humanity to make ends meet and survive. There are moments of humour, and the drama is quite riveting in an edgy anxiety-inducing kind of way. It was too dark for me (“This is a dark film, with aspirations of grittiness, realism, and the experience of living with despair” – Wynen again) but is still worth a look for the performances by Pitt, Jenkins and Gandolfini alone.
“Killing them softly” comes from Jackie, who likes to let his victims down well, with humanity, clean. The best lines, delivered by Pitt, come right at the end of the tangled money trail, as Jackie lectures Driver about the myth of American freedom, slavery, and the Constitution, “America is not a country, it’s a business…you’re on your own.”