‘Killing Them Softly’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 3:56 am,

Killing Them Softly Review starring Brad Pitt James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta Killing Them Softly Review

The film nonetheless offers a lot intriguing visual stimuli and food for thought – which you’ll have no choice but to consume as it’s being force-fed to you.

With The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, writer/director Andrew Dominik and Brad Pitt split moviegoers (the few that turned out to see it, at least) right down the middle of the love/hate divide. Some heralded Dominik’s surreal, painting-in-motion visuals and meditative script as new-wave genius, while others called the genre-bending film a boring (put pretty) meandering waste of two-plus hours.

With Killing Them Softly, Dominik and Pitt re-team to bend mob movies conventions in a story about a chain of events set in motion by one ill-fated robbery; the man assigned to re-establish order in the midst of disorder; and what this world of underworld mechanics has to do with the political-economic realities of America during the last four years. (You read that right.)

Frankie (Scoot McNairy) is just a bottom-feeding ex-con looking to get back on his feet, but the economy is in the toilet (circa 2008) and what options does a crook have but to steal? So, when small-time gangster Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) sets his thieving sights on a card game held by fellow mobster Marky Trattman (Ray Liotta), Frankie is all in. Unfortunately, Frankie chooses an accomplice in the form of herion-addict scumbag, Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), who proves to be the weak link that eventually lands the three conspirators on the radar of enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt). Jackie is a man known by few but feared by many – with good reason. But in the midst of such chaos, even a pro like Jackie finds it hard to navigate the politics of the new-age underworld order, begging the question: what the hell is happening to the American (criminal) way?

Ray Liotta in Killing Them Softly Killing Them Softly Review

Ray Liotta in ‘Killing Them Softly’

Those hoping for Killing Them Softly to be the action-packed thriller of a mob movie they may have seen advertised – you will not find that movie here. What you will find is something less like the quiet, dreamy tone of The Assassination of Jesse James, and more akin to a Quentin Tarantino movie – only with pulpy, pop-culture-laced dialogue replaced with more earnest ruminations on life, people, criminality, politics (both personal or otherwise) and the like. While much of it is certainly heavy-handed and preachy, thanks to the actors involved, it works pretty well most of the time.

Visually, Killing Them Softly is a strange, but beautiful, bird. There are many instances in which Dominik takes familiar tropes (a robbery, a hit, a tense conversation) and transforms them into exercises in film art. Some of it is organic and meaningful – a lot of it is admittedly indulgent – but it’s all interesting, to say the least. For instance: in one scene, a conversation between Frankie and a doped-up Russell oscillates between gritty reality and a surrealist vision of “the high” Russell is riding. Is the stylistic technique on display all that relevant to the story? No. Is it interesting and captivating to watch in the moment? In Dominik’s hands, the answer is “yes.”

James Gandolfini in Killing Them Softly Killing Them Softly Review

James Gandolfini in ‘Killing Them Softly’

Adding to the impressive visual composition are a lot of quality performances and a witty script (also from Dominik, who adapts the novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins). As stated, this film is very “Tarantino-esque” in the sense that it is, ostensibly, a series of dialogue-driven scenes – often between just one or two performers. However, the conversations between these individuals (who discuss topics like crime and violence like they’re everyday normality) are hilarious in their juxtaposition to U.S. politics/economics – a comparison the film hammers over your head. Repeatedly.

News footage and broadcasts from the 2008 economic collapse and U.S. presidential campaign are woven into many of the scenes (through voice-over, or background noise), thereby framing the subtext of the underworld developments we’re witnessing. It’s very preachy and in-your-face, down to the last heated diatribe that closes the film. A subtle layer of metaphor would’ve been more effective, perhaps, but there is still an amount of clever humor that Dominik milks from the concept.

Pitt is solid as Jackie; the character is pretty static (a stoic, no-nonsense, by-the-book worker bee) but Pitt brings enough calculated intensity and tough-guy wit to make Jackie a cool (but menacing) character. Richard Jenkins (Let Me In) is a great foil for Pitt, playing the awkward middle-management drone who runs messages (and assassinations) between the bosses and street-level guys  like Jackie. The multiple scenes with Pitt and Jenkins debating proper criminal protocol in parked cars or bars are some of the most effective illustrations of what Dominik is attempting to do – in that their discussions of retribution and management of the urban jungle effectively (and subtly) mimic many of the discussions heard in the American political arena.

Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy in Killing Them Softly Killing Them Softly Review

Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy in ‘Killing Them Softly’

The rest of the cast consists of mob drama vets like Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) and The Sopranos stars James Gandolfini and Vincent Curatola (to name a few), riffing on their mobster personas. If you thought Tony Soprano was depressed, wait until you meet Gandolfini’s sad-sack hitman character, Mickey…

The two biggest standouts, however, are McNairy and Mendelsohn, who rise to the task of carrying the opening act of the film. Both actors have gained acclaim in recent years – McNairy for films like Monsters and Argo; Mendelsohn for films like Animal Kingdom and The Dark Knight Rises – and seeing them onscreen together, it is easy to understand why. From their hilariously low-brow dialogue to the tense robbery sequence they execute, the two actors own the screen for the significant amount of time they’re given, before things are handed over to Mr. Pitt.

In the end, Killing Them Softly will be best digested by those who are truly informed and prepared for what they are getting (as opposed to what the advertisements sell). While slower and more “talky” than most mob movies, the film nonetheless offers a lot intriguing visual stimuli and food for thought – which you’ll have no choice but to consume as it’s being force-fed to you. But, If you don’t like heady real-world issues being mixed in with your mob fantasies, best to kill the idea of seeking this one out.

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Killing Them Softly is now playing in theaters. It is Rated R for violence, sexual references, pervasive language, and some drug use.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

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  1. This movie was terrific, awesome conversations. Future screenwriters should take note of these scenes.

  2. After reading a considerable number of reviews about this movie I’ve realized something, all reviewers either know each other or every review on every site is written by the same person.

    Why do I say this? I’ll explain….. For some reason every reviewer hated the ” American economic turmoil as a mirror of the mob criminal underworld” subtext. Now this isnt a problem, it’s a major part of the movie and a reviewer must comment on the major themes of a movie, okay.

    I read a Cannes Film Festival review/preview-review of this movie where the reviewer was also quick to mention this underlying “subtext”. After having read this review I had decided right then that this movie was going to be too preachy and tiresome to watch. All I was hoping for, at the time, was a really good gangster movie not some preachy self-centered look at American politics or economy as seen through the eyes of the criminal underworld. And I’m betting this is the same thought that most reviewers had in the back of their minds before seeing this movie. So latching onto this aspect of the movie, and using it as something to count against the movie, seems like the obvious/easy thing to do.

    It’s almost like every critic got a “talking point” that they’ve all decided to use, en masse, for this movie review.

    By the way, I haven’t seen this movie yet and I’ve written this before reading Screenrants review. I tend to read Screenrant reviews last so I can walk into the movie theatre with the best, most level-headed view of the movie in mind. That’s my rant….

  3. Haven’t hated a movie this much since the visually distatsteful Fight Club- and I hate this more, the more I reflect on it, and reflecting is likely causing brain damage. The underlying political message is a cheap shot, likely to continue to cause a festering of the pus in the hearts of all of those who make the “this country is not fair” meme an excuse for their resentmnent and dissatisfaction wiht their own lives. Complete insulkt to the senses and a waste of time and talent.

  4. Haven’t hated a movie this much since the visually distasteful Fight Club- and I hate this more, the more I reflect on it, and reflecting is likely causing brain damage. The underlying political message is a cheap shot, likely to continue to cause a festering of the pus in the hearts of all of those who make the “this country is not fair” meme an excuse for their resentment and dissatisfaction wit their own lives. Complete insult to the senses and a waste of time and talent. Fixed it-guess the brain damage part is valid!

    • You hate Fight Club? Which part?

      • Hating Fight Club the movie is like hating birthday presents, puppies, or a first kiss.

        It’s just wrong, I tell ya!

      • One can not simply hate fight club.

  5. How can you hate fight club?

  6. ****Possible Spoilers****

    I saw this movie on opening night. Other than Pitt’s character and performance; this movie is probably one of the most boring and pointless I have ever seen. The entire movie is something that would have occurred in 3 minutes in another mob movie. There are no twists or turns. No excitement (other than Liotta’s Beating), and everything is very drawn out. I’m pretty sure Gandolfini said almost the exact same lines at night at the bar and in the hotel room.

    By the review it states that it’s tarantino esque. If they meant that there is conversations in the film, that’s as far as it goes. Tarantino adds flair to his conversations. They are interesting. The ones in this movie were over done to the point of monotony.

    Save yourself some money; dont see it.

    • Exactly, EXACTLY how I feel about the film.

  7. I really thought scoot mcnairy was awful in monsters… good in argo tho and havnt seen this.

  8. Well as usual Brad Pitt was pure gold.. Give me his final ‘America’ speech on loop and burn the rest of the movie.


  9. I’ve been hearing some comparisons between this film and Drive, I’m interested in how Killing them Softly holds up against Drive?

  10. Killing them softly was a terrible production. What a waste of money. Pitt really lowered his standards on this one. I took my wife, as we both like thrillers, but the “trailer” did not show the “brutality”, which shocked us and totally caught us off guard. You have to have a strong stomach to watch the beating of Ray Liotta. Several people left the theatre and I heard someone vomit.

    My wife was upset with me that I would take her to such a movie. The language, well it was disgusting. We don’t get upset with a few “F words” here and there, but no-one could put a sentence together without using the “F word” all the way through to the end.

    The producers, including Brad Pitt, should wear masks and carry guns for taking your money for this one. An absolutely horrible and disgusting production, unworthy of a one star rating !!

    • Someone vomited? Really? I doubt that, that’s a little dramatic. Also, why are you so offended by swearing? I mean, how fortunate and easy going has your life been that you can afford to get so upset by swear words?

  11. My wife and I saw the first 20 minutes of this horrible movie. Plot is …well there isn’t one. Storyline is rediculous, and the acting is bad. I can’t say enough bad things about this box office flop. If it is still in the theaters after one weekend I would be shocked. Do not see this movie!

  12. After shootings like Newtown, Conneticut movies like Killing me Softly should be boycotted. Actors need to take responsibility for the roles they play and violent movies they create. Killing Me Softly is just one more miserable movie which tries to create entertainment from killing.

    • It’s not any actor, nor film’s fault that violent things happen. Millions of people watch violent movies and don’t start shooting people. In order for someone to watch a bunch of violent movies, and start committing violent acts because of those movies, there has to be many, many, many, many other things wrong with them in the first place. Why do people insist upon blaming everything else but the actual person for their actions?

  13. This movie was absolutely the worst movie I’ve ever seen. I have never been so excited to see a movie in my life. Gandolfini, Liotta, and Pitt should be ashamed of themselves. I was huge fans of them. The commercials are deceiving and they make it seem like James Gandolfini is the main character, HE’S NOT he has a 5 min part. Don’t go see this movie and waste your time. Pointless and boring.


  15. This was THE WORST MOVIE in history. What a waste of money & time. Watching paint dry would be more exciting than this movie.

    • It really wasn’t. The entire movie can be summed up as “Two guys rob a card game, then everyone involved gets killed.” It was the most boring, uneventful movie I have ever seen in my life. I was amazed when it got to the ending. I just couldnt believe that that was it. Nothing f*cking happened throughout the entire movie. I have no idea how people are labeling this as a thriller.