Getting down to business

Film Review: Killing Them Softly

REVIEWED BY MATTHEW DALLAS
Last updated 15:08 30/11/2012
Killing them Softly

Hitman: Brad Pitt gets down to business in Killing Them Softly:

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OPINION: Whether it's subprime lending on Wall Street or card games in the mean streets, micro-economics can be volatile and cut-throat, as is depicted in Andrew Dominik's crime-drama Killing Them Softly.

The Aussie director of arty western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford has reteamed with Brad Pitt to boil the global financial crisis down to a neighbourhood of two-bit crooks, mobsters and hit men.

Whether you consider this an intriguing enough allegory to pin a movie to will likely dictate the extent to which you appreciate Killing Them Softly - because it doesn't offer much else out of the ordinary.

Drug-addled bottom-feeders Frankie (an excellent Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) play out mobster Johnny Amato's (Vincent Cuatola) crafty plot to stick-up a card game organised by Markie (Ray Liotta).

Robbing well-heeled crooks is rarely a good idea, but Johnny knows Markie has stuck-up his own card game in the past and would attract most of the heat.

Based on the 1974 George Higgins novel Cogan's Trade, the story has been moved from Boston to a rotting, post-Katrina, New Orleans in late 2008. The presidential election race is heating up and the economy is in free fall.

Televisions in almost every scene provide a backing soundtrack of Obama and McCain's pledges and promises, and George W. Bush talking bail-outs. Meanwhile, the robbery has left the local underworld economy in disarray.

Hit man Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is brought to town to restore confidence and manage the required corpses. A confident, consummate professional, Jackie keeps emotions out of it, preferring to "kill softly" from a distance.

He is given instructions from Richard Jenkins 'Driver', a chief executive of sorts who reports back to a mob 'board of directors'.

There's certainly no risk of missing the myriad of big business allusions, nor is there much risk of giving a rat's arse for any of the characters. Jackie is one cool cat, an alpha-male 'consultant' a step ahead of everyone, but there's no glimpse beneath the facade.

Frankie and Russell are idiot dopers, whose fates are never in doubt, and Markie represents no more than the sacrifice of 'middle-management'.

James Gandolfini's Mickey, who Jackie calls in to assist with the workload, offers a disturbing portrayal of a hit man who's been in the industry too long, but you won't find an ounce of empathy for him.

Dominik is adept at setting tone and building character through dialogue. He isn't afraid to let the camera linger on two characters chewing the fat for five or six minutes, just don't expect Tarantino level anecdotes and repartee.

I applaud Dominik for finding a new way to frame a well-worn yet much-loved genre, but it was too cold, calm and collected to engage more than my curiosity, and the story too lean and mean when stripped of its subtext.

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