‘Killing Them Softly’ Review: A Gangster Film With Beauty

johnvalle December 5, 2012 0
‘Killing Them Softly’ Review: A Gangster Film With Beauty
  • Cast
  • Cinematography
  • Visual Effects
  • Politics
Director: Andrew Dominik
Andrew Dominik (Screenplay), George V. Higgins (Novel)
Marc Butan, Megan Ellison, Bill Johnson, Jim Seibel, Adi Shankar, and Spencer Silna
Greig Fraser
Marc Streitenfeld, Rachel Fox (Music Supervisor)
Brad Pitt, Ray Liota, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Vincent Curatola


Ever since the introduction of sound to the cinema in the 1920s, Hollywood has remained faithfully fascinated with the gangster genre. As I admit to being an admirer for this type of film, especially with Goodfellas (Scorsese, 1990) being one of my favorite movies to date, I still find it difficult for a great gangster film to be made. One could blame it on the ungodly amounts of clichés typically associated with this genre that seem hard to detach from. However, if the filmmakers can manage to stay above the redundancies than they often turn out to be a brilliant creation. A recently released film that walks a treading path of redundancy and originality is Killing Them Softly.


Based off of the novel, Cogan’s Trade, by George V. Higgins, Killing Them Softly tells the story of a more recent underground crime world hidden behind corruption, gambling, and murder. While a Mob protected card game is underway two guys, one by the name of Russel (Ben Mendelsohn) who is a serious drug addict and the other a young man struggling to stay afloat named Frankie (Scoot McNairy), armed with a sawed off rifle and a hand gun rob the game for $100,000. As the outcome of the heist causes the local criminal economy to collapse, Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is brought into the situation to restore order from the lawlessness at hand.

The Good:

The Cinematography

There are so many ways to tell a story and make it personal, yet not everyone has a clear vision to do so successfully. In Killing Them Softly the cinematographer, Greig Fraser, and director Andrew Dominik do a superb job by giving us a picturesque beauty that will have you reminiscing it long after the feature has ended. Everything about the cinematography is  superb, from the brilliant long takes aided by a simple pan to the technological impacts bringing life to scenarios only the dead have experienced. Although this feature is a bit slow at times, the cinematography keeps the attention at bay. Some of the most aesthetically pleasing shots are during the action scenes. In one scene Dominik slows down the time, meticulously allowing for the broken glass created by bullets to ripple like water. Even though this is a shot that takes up less than five minutes, it is incredibly refreshing to see the time and detail spent to make it beautifully presented. The hard work paid off as the feature is beautifully crafted.

The Special Effects

As we live in a world where many industries are dominated by technology, it is often easy to lose fascination when demands for visual brilliance are so high. Perfectly playing alongside the cinematography are the special effects featured throughout the film. As both are absolutely stunning the juxtaposition of the two result in some great action scenes. The visual effects brought to life through the dramatic tension are some of the better aspects of the movie. Mostly occurring at moments of death, these shots consist of breaking the action into a 360-degree like rotation fully arrested by slow motion and held together by digital effects. Although not used a lot throughout the feature, the scenes containing these spectacular visual effects will maintain a strong hold on the audiences attention.

Jackie, Markie, and Frankie

Although the cast making up the film contains some huge names that performed well overall, I thought that three characters in particular did a phenomenal job holding the film together. Anyone who has seen a major film in the past decade has more often than not seen one starring Brad Pitt. Although I am not always a fan of huge star names constantly being featured in films, I believe him to always be a solid choice. In the movie, Brad Pitt plays the smooth hit man, Jackie Cogan, called in to clean up the incredibly sticky situation plaguing the local criminal world. He carries out a strong performance being one of the main characters and one of the more enjoyable assets to the film.

Another actor making a mark in this film, and who is also a well known face in the cinema, is Ray Liotta. As I personally have a deep respect for the man, mainly due to his part in Goodfellas, I typically enjoy seeing him featured. This performance is one of Liotta’s best efforts that I’ve seen in a long time. The falling Mickie is one of the few characters that will leave a strong impact on the viewer, his portrayal left a defined mark in my mind long after the film ended.

Last, but certainly not least is Scoot McNairy. Playing the role of Frankie, one of the young men who rob the card game, McNairy absolutely killed it. Although his role is not as prominently featured as the superstar Mr. Pitt, he is one of the best aspects in Killing Them Softly. He is absolutely brilliant from beginning to end, proving that he should indeed be a rising face in the cinema. With this award winning performance, Scoot McNairy will definitely be a name to keep an eye for as he seems to have a bright future ahead.

The Music

With the film taking place in 2008 and being centered on criminal activities, the musical department featured is a completely contradicting atmosphere that somehow functions brilliantly. Dating back to the early 20th Century, the soundtrack contains songs from Jack Hylton & His Orchestra, that progress along to Ketty Lester and Barrett Strong, and on to even more recent melodies from Carl Stone. The musical compositions found in Killing Them Softly provide a surprisingly wonderful environment held together with the challenges of visual and audio aesthetics.

The Okay:

General Lack of Action

WWhen hearing about a film dealing with underground criminal enterprises, one of the last anticipations is that the center of the film has a lack of action. In order for a film of this genre to maintain an appropriate atmosphere, there needs to be action. And if the action is not the leading catalyst of the film, then the dialogue slowing the pace down needs to be poetically brilliant. As this was the case for Killing Them Softly, I personally did not mind the slower story. The dialogue is so wound with meticulous details that every conversation, whether short and sweet or long and emotional, will arrest the viewer with great attention. Although I did enjoy the script I would still prefer to see a little more action. Not because I have a hard time keeping my attention focused, but simply because the aesthetics making up the action scenes are extraordinary. The overall pace is indeed a bit slow, and even the story line a bit simple, yet the script still contains a constant tone of pure excellence.

The Bad:

The Politics

As I began watching the film I noticed the reoccurring political imagery that was being used. many of the transitions from scene to scene, a television shows either Senator Barack Obama or President George W. Bush speaking about different issues. Although these visual symbols were continually shown, I found it incredibly vague in what was trying to be said. With such a dominate presence in the film it was quite frustrating to not have a better understanding as to why they were so prevalent. If the politics were not featured on a television screen they could also be heard with emphasis in the audio department on many occasions. Although I have a few ideas of what the director Dominik intended for these political aspects I wish the message would have been a bit clearer, or could have been toned down.

Overall Score: 3.5/5

Overall I found Killing Them Softly to be a good film and would definitely recommend seeing it. The cinematography is brilliant, as are  a few specific cast members. I do, however, wish that there were more action scenes as they were aesthetically extraordinary, as well as a better explanation to the political agenda arresting the film. If you are a fan of gangster films that have a beautiful dialogue with a decent amount of action, than absolutely Killing Them Softly is for you. On the other hand, if its the action that drives you to the theaters for this type of film then you may want to miss this one – the action takes a subtle seat behind the dialogue.

‘Killing Them Softly’ Trailer