Star Rating:

Killing Them Softly

Director: Andrew Dominik

Actors: James Gandolfini

Release Date: Monday 30th November -0001

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Running time: 97 minutes

Just when you think you've had enough hitman movies, Andrew Dominik pops up with a belter. The writer-director isn't just concerned with making a gritty crime comedy thriller, though - this is a state of the nation address.

Brad Pitt likes to kill them softly, put space between him and the mark - get up too close and they start crying, pleading. It's embarrassing. When he's employed by Richard Jenkins' lawyer to hit drug addicts Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn, who knocked over Ray Liotta's mob card game, that's exactly what he plans to do, keep his distance. He ropes in Gandolfini for help but because the now-alcoholic Gandolfini is on the verge of a divorce and seems more interested in prostitutes than the job, the straightforward hit gets chaotic.

Adapted from George V Higgins' 70s pulp novel, Killing Them Softly is more akin to the director's debut, the wacky and violent Chopper, than his last, the studied and contemplative The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. Gone too is the Terrence Malick-influence of the latter: there is no poetic narration, no wandering about gorgeous scenery - we are in a world of trailer parks in a grey, depressed city. Scenes take place under disused bridges and in industrial wastelands. If we were not reminded that this is set in election year America then one could mistake this for post-communist Eastern Europe. It's cold, it's dirty, it's depressing.

Thanks to the dialogue then, which is spat out by these lowlifes and beautiful losers, to liven things up. It's sharp, it's funny and although prone to digressions - Gandolfini doesn't need an excuse to tell us his life story, a mixture of hilarity and melancholy - it always stays this side of Tarantino showiness. The outbursts of violence, when they come, are unexpected and while Dominik might rely on the Sam Peckinpah slo-mo ballet once or twice, I doubt old Sam ever thought of setting one of his action scenes to Love Letters. Odd.

But all this is a front for an undisguised dig at the American Dream, or american dream as this film would have it. Set during the 2008 election campaign, the story is constantly interrupted by speeches from Obama and his 'change' and 'community' and 'we're in this together' shtick. Pitt's cynical hitman scoffs every time the president-elect is on TV or the radio and sums up the entire movie, and America, with one of the greatest lines to ever finish a movie. The running commentary is overused, however, and soon becomes a distraction. What could have been used more is poor Sam Shepard, who looked like he was shaping up to play a major role, and a fun one at that, but then disappears from the movie. The heroin scene, shot from Mendelsohn's stoned point of view is a misstep too.

They are minors quibbles, though. It's gritty, it's violence, it's funny and the performances are flawless. Killing Them Softly is a must-see.