Director/writer Andrew Dominik reimagines the mobster movie in “Killing Them Softly,” an absorbing drama that comes with a thick layer of political allegory.
When a couple of dim-bulb thugs (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) follow the plans of a midlevel mobster (“The Sopranos’ ” Vincent Curatola) to rob a Mafia-run poker game, the resulting chaos threatens the order of things. The crime bosses — embodied by a nervous lawyer type played by Richard Jenkins — call in Jackie (Brad Pitt), a fixer who must sort out the mess, which includes figuring out whether the poker game’s operator, Markie (Ray Liotta), must also die to maintain the mob’s reputation. Jackie also is diverted by a fellow hitman, Mickey (James Gandolfini), who’s clearly not up for the job.
Dominik (who directed Pitt in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”) adapts George V. Higgins’ novel Cogan’s Trade by replicating Higgins’ archly elliptical dialogue in long scenes punctuated with small but significant bursts of violence (including a super-slo-mo shooting that’s both gruesome and weirdly poetic).
His major misstep is grafting this story to modern politics (specifically, the 2008 Wall Street bailout) with a heavy-handed analogy that equates the dumb hoodlums to greedy hedge-fund operators.
The supporting cast adds some baroque touches, but it’s Pitt’s central performance, both laid-back and tightly coiled, that draws you into this dark and deeply cynical world.
‘Killing Them Softly’
Opens today at theaters everywhere; rated R for violence, sexual references, pervasive language, and some drug use; 97 minutes.