Killing Them Softly (2012): Australian filmmaker Andrew Dominik's parable on the decline of American Capitalism

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Killing Them Softly, Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan, Directed by Andrew Dominik
Killing Them Softly (2012) - By Andrew Dominik

Our Rating: 8.0
IMDb Ratings: 7.1
Genre: Crime | Thriller
CastBrad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins
Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 97 min

Killing Them Softly is a 2012 crime film directed by Australian filmmaker Andrew Dominik. The movie premiered at the 65th annual Cannes Film Festival in May 2012. Based on a 1974 novel named Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, Killing Them Softly is essentially a cinematic metaphor that serves to be a tongue-in-cheek satire on the increasingly moribund US economy and its prime stakeholders. During the course of the Second World War, the only nation to have grown richer was the United States of America. And since then the US never missed a single opportunity to use its superior purchasing power to dictate its terms to the whole world, but things changed drastically after the 2008 economic slowdown. The Bush Administration, the most conspicuous culprit responsible for the turmoil,  was ousted and in came the great savior: Barack Hussein Obama. Desperate times demanded desperate measures, and the Obama Administration was quick to realize it. The country which had taught the world the true meaning of an “open economy” suddenly chose to close its doors to the rest of the world as a means of damage control. In Killing Them Softly, in a much similar manner, a mob-run American town is left in a state of shambles after a couple of smalltime robbers, Frankie and Russell, under the instructions of a resourceful crook, stage a successful heist during a mob-protected poker game—the main source of the mob’s earnings. Soon after, the mob calls upon a hit man named Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to clean up the mess.

Ben Mendelsohn as Russel, Ray Liotta as Markie Trattman, The Heist, Killing Them Softly, Directed by Andrew Dominik
Killing Them Softly (2012): The Robbery Scene
Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) is the man who presides over the mob’s gambling operations. And Markie is naturally looked upon by the mob bosses as the most usual suspect, for he had previously staged a similar operation under the mob's nose but had been fortunate enough  to earn a reprieve. Jackie Cogan is absolutely certain that Markie is too smart to make the same mistake twice, but also realizes that since Markie has no further role to play in the mob’s business an example must be made out of him. Markie is brutally assaulted by Cogan’s men as he very nearly bleeds to death. As Cogan closes in on the actual perpetrators, we realize that there’s more to him than meets the eye. While Cogan insists that he has got a soft heart and prefers to “kill softy”—getting people killed without getting involved directly—we soon learn that he is a master manipulator, an astute businessman, a sadistic killer who knows no bounds. In a way, Jackie Cogan is a manifestation of the insatiable greed that dwells in our hearts and gradually rots us from the inside.

Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan, Richard Jenkins as Driver, Car scene, Killing Them Softly, Directed by Andrew Dominik
Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan in Killing Them Softly (2012)
Killing Them Softly takes an allegorical course to cheekily underline the understated reality that America’s most viable business, over the years, has been organized crime. The movie finally lets go of its insinuations and gets bitterly direct during the final few moments of the movie when Jackie Cogan asseverates, in rejection of a Barack Obama statement made during an address broadcasted on national television, “America is not a country. It’s a business.” The dialogue in Killing Them Softly is so deceptively subtle that the less keen viewer would find it witty as worst and abusive at best. 
Scoot McNairy as Frankie, Ben Mendelsohn as Russell (accompanying a puppy dog), Killing Them Softly, Directed by Andrew Dominik
Ben Mendelsohn as Russell & Scoot McNairy as Frankie 
On the contrary, a perspicacious viewer would be surprised to discover the various insinuations, analogies and subtexts that constitute the movie’s plot. In fact, the movie relies so heavily on its dialogue that the actual action takes a backseat for the major part of the movie. But, on those rare occasions when Andrew Dominik does choose to cut loose—with the sudden and quick release of the tension—the end result is devastatingly, luridly grand. This is epitomized by the Matrix-like, super-slow-motion sequence that depicts Jackie Cogan cut shot the life of one of his hapless victims. Killing Them Softly brings together a great assemblage of actors led by the likes Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins and Sam Shepard. And, as expected, the acting is top notch: Brad Pitt succeeds in getting into the skin his character as he had so meticulously done in Andrew Dominik’s psychological Western, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007); Ray Liotta delivers his best performance in years, reminding us of his brilliant portrayal in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990).         

Scoot McNairy as Frankie, Ben Mendelsohn as Russell, the smalltime Robbers, Killing Them Softly (2012), Directed by Andrew Dominik
A Still from Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly (2012)
Overall, Killing Them Softly is a great parable on the decline of American Capitalism that simultaneously serves to be a tongue-in-cheek satire on the hypocritical modern civilization which is largely driven by materialistic pursuits rather than meaningful desires, and which speaks of morality and yet remains completely oblivious to it. In a strange yet striking manner, Killing Them Softly uncannily reminds one of the hyperrealistic analogies drawn in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis (2012) to highlight the hollowness of our existence. While Killing Them Softly has all the elements of a typical Hollywood-style crime thriller, it remarkably succeeds in achieving much more. Behind its cheesy, sleazy facade the movie has enough to make us contemplate about the artificial world that we have so consciously built for ourselves. While an average viewer is ought to be left bereft by the movie’s cynical approach, an intelligent viewer is expected to reap great benefits. Highly recommended!

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!  

For more information on the title, please click on the following links:

Killing Them Softly (2012) Trailer

Previous Review: Fire in Babylon (2010)

Next Review: Cosmopolis (2012)

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  1. That was a good review. Will probably watch it now!

  2. I am glad you liked the review... would love to hear from you once you have watched it :-)

  3. You have been tagged Murtaza Bhai :)

  4. Excellent review here, love how much you looked into it and "got" the movie. So cool to find someone who shares damn near the same exact thoughts on such a polarizing movie as I do. Loved this flick.

  5. Thanks Alex... I am really glad to hear that. Killing Them Softly indeed is a brilliant film :-)


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