Until he finally made “Blonde”, this recession dark humor crime film was the last in a series of feature films by the Australian Andrew Dominic, who had previously presented himself with the biographical crime film “Chopper” and the stylized western “Assassination Jesse James”. Dominik accepted here the crime novel “Cogan’s Trade” by George Higgins from 1974, and he moved the plot from Boston in the seventies to New Orleans after it was almost destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and after the 2008 recession started. It is the time before the presidential elections in which Barack Obama won, and catastrophic news is coming from all sides that the economy is in chaos and that hard times are coming.
Hard times are clearly here for criminals and contract killers as cutting the fees for doing various dirty jobs will significantly affect the story here. And that story starts and ends a bit crazy and all these criminals and murderers are shown somehow ironically. A few years ago, Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) organized a robbery of an illegal poker room that he runs. After Markie later admitted to his companions that he actually did the job, they all almost peed themselves laughing, and the petty criminal who came up with the hellish plan found out about the story. Johnny “Squirrel” Amato will find both Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and heroin addict Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) to rob the same card room, assuming everyone will think Markie has done the same thing again.
However, no one will be laughing at this robbery and the mobsters, who have run out of money, will hire hired killers to find those responsible, and of course the investigation will start from Markie. And that’s where the hired killer Jackie (Brad Pitt) enters the scene, who has been hired to eliminate those responsible, and he will hire another killer to help, Mickey (James Gandolfini), who has become quite lazy and out of shape since the last time they worked together. And that’s how the series of contract killings will begin, the bodies will pile up, and by the end, nobody will be too satisfied and happy.
“Killing Them Softly” differs (Jackie at one point explains that he likes to kill his targets gently, i.e. from afar, while they are not even aware of what is in store for them) from most similar crime films not only in his ironic and cynical view of all that dirty work, but also by structure. Dominik made a film that is as violent and cruel as it is funny and darkly humorous, and the whole atypical story works partly thanks to a good and original script, but also to the quality performances of many well-known actors. Gandolfini is especially striking as a murderer who got lazy and instead of doing the job he was hired for, he drinks all day long and spends the money he received in advance on prostitutes, which is why the organization will give him up so easily.