America is not a country. It’s a business. Now fuckin’ pay me!
So ends the film, Killing Them Softly. I’m not going to tell you who said that line, or the circumstances surrounding it. What I will tell you is that Killing Them Softly opened last November 30th, and was directed by Andrew Dominick who also wrote the screenplay which was based on the George V. Higgins 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade.
Now Cogan’s Trade was set in Boston and in the 70’s. Dominick’s film is set in 2008 and in or near, an unnamed city, which as it turns out is New Orleans – but you’d never know it from the buildings, bars, or restaurants.
Dominick sets up a theme within the movie that is that the US economy was tanking in 2008 – we have Obama, Bush, and McCain telling us as much as we see and hear them on the TV’s which show up in all the bars throughout the movie.
While things were going south on Wall Street and Main Street – the same thing was happening within organized crime. Times were tough. One mobster, Markie Trattman played by Ray Liotta, was running a protected poker game. Which he decides to rob himself by bringing in two outsiders. We learn this in flashbacks.
Now no one would be dumb enough to take down a protected card game, so Trattman went undetected. He had to take a beating but basically he walked.
Then, in the present, another underworld figure, Johnny ‘Squirrel’ Amato, played by Vincent Curatola (Johnny Sack in the Sopranos) decides to take down another of Trattman’s poker games. He correctly figures that Trattman got away with it once, but would never ever be able to convince anyone that he wasn’t involved in the second heist. Only Amato hires two ex-cons who look like they lack the smarts to make it happen.But they do pull it off and get away clean.
The mob decides that something must be done. The mob’s middleman, called Driver and played by Richard Jenkins meets with the hired gun, Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt). His job will be to find the two mutts who pulled the job, and to get them to roll over on who sent them. But Jackie doesn’t want to do a double. So he calls in another gunman, Mickey, played by James Gandolfini, once known far and wide as Tony Soprano.
There’s your set up.
The film is gritty and dark (as in night-time most of the time). The movie follows along two lines – the crimes and the punishments. The action sequences are violent, gory, with plenty of brains being blown out of heads. We get shell casings falling in slow motion, we get splattering blood, and the shattered flying glass. So yeah, the carnage is massive. Only happens to a few people – but definitely – if you are squeamish, this film isn’t for you.
But when people are talking we have a whole other film. Mickey is just like Jack Wolz from The Godfather –
Wolz: She was the greatest piece of ass I’ve ever had, and I’ve had ’em all over the world
Mickey: Yeah I like going with hookers. [Sex] It’s my hobby.
The more graphic parts of Mickey’s soliloquy have been deleted for this review, just as in the NY Times film review where they sanitized the film’s closing line from ‘Now fuckin’ pay me!‘ to ‘Now give me my money‘.
But when Mickey waxes philosophically and in explicit depth about his sexual escapades, it comes off as boring. And Ray Liotta’s Markie is boring. Johnny Squirrel Amato is interesting – but Curatola seems a bit older, and heavier these days as such he lacks any real menace. The same can be said for Jenkins as Driver, the middleman. He’s just a colorless mid-level guy without menace, without style, and without pizzazz.
Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan – looks like a working stiff, and he is a working stiff having to fight for every nickel from the cash strapped mob. Pitt plays him as low-keyed, and quiet – as in deadly efficient (emphasis on the deadly). Sort of like De Niro in Ronin. But the menace just pours out of him. You could scoop it up with a spoon.
I thought Pitt was pretty much the whole film. Everything else seems a step down, from Mickey, to Driver, to Markie, to Squirrel, as well as Director Dominick’s attempts to pull a small mob picture into having the same relevance as the US economy. And there’s only one speaking role for a woman in the entire film.
Don’t even think about seeing any cops.
Fugheddabout seeing any lawyers, judges, or courtrooms too.
Yeah times were tough. But the saving grace for the film is that when Pitt/Jackie talks – people better listen. Which brings us to the title of the movie. By the way, the film is not referencing the Robert Flack song, Killing Me Softly. Rather it about how Pitt’s Jackie Cogan feels about his targets and his work:
They cry, they plead, they beg, they piss themselves, they cry for their mothers. It gets embarrassing. I like to kill ’em softly. From a distance …
Three point two five is the rating which means this is not a full-blown miss but is nowhere near being a hit. It might have been, and should have been a whole lot better.