A grimy, darkly comic thriller wedged deep inside the buttcrack of America, Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly examines what happens to those who cross the mob in a more seedy, realistic sense. Focusing on Brad Pitt’s Jackie Cogan as he’s called in to teach said bumbling, lame-brained derelicts a lesson, Dominik’s latest isn’t nearly as well-rounded as you’d expect it to be, employing singular creative touches in an inconsistent manner that distract from the film’s overall appeal.
Barring the technical inconsistencies, Killing Them Softly is relatively sound if a bit too deliberately paced, setting us up for Pitt’s entrance wonderfully via an agreeably taut heist sequence. The scene in question is undoubtedly a high point, remaining as well-executed as a majority of what the film has to offer, that is until an unnecessary character arc is thrown into the fray to further dissuade us from admiring all there is to admire. Aforementioned creative choices aside, Dominik’s chosen to celebrate the intermittent bouts of violence Jackie unleashes upon his targets wholeheartedly, perhaps in an attempt to accentuate just how unforgiving the consequences suffered should be and ultimately are. From bullets penetrating human flesh at several thousand frames per second to a good ol’ fashioned “talkin’ to,” these instances admirably help break up the monotony brought about by the more routine conversations and goings on, all of which are set against the backdrop of the 2008 Presidential election.
Even further still, Killing Them Softly sports an array of appropriately filthy, mostly detestable characters; people Jackie himself serves as an admirable foil to, making him the only person worth rooting for despite his unpleasant line of work and heavy-handed socioeconomic ramblings. In terms of its overall visual aura, the film accurately depicts how easily these people have become products of their environment, carrying with them a gloomy, beat-up aesthetic that’s employed well enough throughout. All in all, it’s wildly satisfying seeing these scumbags get what’s coming to them and equally entertaining listening to Jackie himself smooth talk his way through every one of his face-to-face encounters.
While some may say it’s a step back for Dominik, Killing Them Softly is a visceral, mostly unconventional, ultraviolent and frequently witty entry into 2012’s canon that ultimately shouldn’t be missed. Finding solace in its stronger, more crowd-pleasing sequences, the film is a competent blend of great and so-so, assuredly garnering its fair share of detractors on the basis of the grime and deliberate pacing at its core. With strong performances to boot, Killing Them Softly rises above more recent entries in the crime thriller subgenre to merely entertain rather than redefine.