Review: “Killing Them Softly”

by Scott Mendelson
Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly has, from a conversational standpoint, one of the finest screenplays of the last few years. It is a relatively low-key crime drama, filled with crusty character actors doing chewy character turns. But more importantly, certainly more importantly than its sledgehammer subtext (more on that later), it is an absolute revelation in terms of the art of cinematic conversation. The film is rich with authentic dialogue and thoughtful discussion, both of the film’s issues and of matters related merely to character. Frankly most of the film involves two or three characters conversing with each other, so it’s a good thing the dialogue is so darn good. When the film stays within its own world, it is a top-notch entry in its sub-genre. Its only real fault is in trying too hard to achieve topicality and relevance, to the point where the subtext becomes explicit text.

The inciting factor that kicks off the film is a daring robbery of a gangland card game. This is not the first time such a robbery has occurred, and immediate action must be taken to restore a sense of order in the organized crime community. Enter Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), brought in by a local mediator of sorts played with deadpan nerve by the always wonderful Richard Jenkins. He is a hit man plain and simple, although his assignment is slightly more complicated than merely finding and disposing of the perpetrators. The illusion of order is as important, if not more so than actual order itself, so whether or not the right people get killed becomes less of a concern than merely showing ‘something’ being done in response. That’s all the plot you need so that’s pretty much all you get.

Read the rest of this review here.

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