By Liz López
When hearing about a film relating to the Mob, one conjures up visions of an overdose of action and violence as in films seen before. In the feature film Killing them Softly, adapted from George V. Higgins’s book, Cogan’s Trade by screenwriter/director, Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), the viewer can expect those familiar scenes, but not as typical or frequent as in other mob films. Depending on the viewer’s taste, that can be good or bad, but in Domink’s script, he has created a mob world with frequent scenes from prior to the 2008 U. S. presidential elections. There are references to our government being a business and also that the Mob runs their “business” like a corporation, including various levels of authority with a wide range of how to handle things.
This is unexpected at first, until the viewer makes the connection in the government/criminal business world, so the repeated scenes can be a point of confusion or frustration for viewers who are instead expecting something else on the screen. I went into the theater anticipating a known issue/theme and had another outcome; not that it was a disappointment, but I am surprised to see how Domink adapted the book for contemporary times. There are many dramatic points, but the screenwriter includes a good dose of humor with his characters and that somewhat alleviates the full force of the violence for me.
All the cast in the film are very good and bring life to the characters as if they are real people in the tough streets of the city. As producer, Brad Pitt also takes the lead as Jackie, the enforcer who is to establish order after the second time the protected card games administered by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) are robbed. Jackie is conducting his deal through a suited driver (Richard Jenkins), who represents the anonymous higher ups over the card games. Since the robbery caused the local criminal economy to crash, the corporate heads want somebody to pay and Jackie is now in charge, taking care of business in his own manner.
James Gandolfini and Vincent Curatola (both from The Sopranos) do a great job interpreting their characters, especially Gandolfini who appears to be a washed up contract killer after living a hard party life. Scoot McNairy (Monsters) and Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom) are excellent as the good for nothings who take on the robbery to make fast money and change their life. I like the casting choices, in particular, Mendelsohn who I was very impressed with after viewing his performance in Animal Kingdom. Max Casella, Trevor Long, Slaine and Sam Shepard also have brief turns in the film.
See the film not for what you expect to see, but for the unexpected, including some great slow motion scenes that are best viewed on the big screen. Killing them Softly opens November 30th.