Movies: Killing Them Softly

In 1974 George V. Higgins published Cogan’s Trade, a crime novel set in New Orleans. In 2012, New Zealand-born screenwriter-director Andrew Dominick’s Killing Them Softly, his adaptation of the Higgins novel was released. It is an odd combination of novel and film that, in addition to the graphic violence, is unsettling in other ways.

Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is a mob enforcer in New Orleans in 2008 who is charged with the task of seeing that those who ripped off the mob are punished.
Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon
Courtesy of the Weinstein Company

The story: Professional enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) works for Dillon (Sam Shepard). He is charged with finding out who did it and punishing those responsible for the heist at a mob-protected high-stakes poker game. He is joined in this pursuit by James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins and Sam Shepard. Those they are pursuing include Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), the two young thugs who pulled the heist and the Kenny (Slaine), the guy who put them up to it.

The unsettling stuff: This mostly involves footage from the 2008 US presidential campaign. TVs show clips of the candidates — Obama and McCain — and the incumbent, George W. Bush. They are all discussing the collapse of the American economy. One must wonder why they’ve been included, although one hood remarks that times are tough economically. Quite strange.

Pitt — who, along with Liotta, gives an especially outstanding performance — has worked with Andrew Dominick before in the haunting, wonderful The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. Here, although we are warned by Pitt that his gunshot will be loud, many in the theater literally jumped at the noise. Killing Them Softly is very talky and the audience isn’t always sure of what’s going on.

It does, however, boast an excellent, well-thought-out score, including Ketty Lester’s original version of Love Letters.

Killing Them Softly is an interesting, but not always easy to watch, study of violence in America.