Killing Them Softly has as a mind of its own. It’s full of trashy characters with no redeemable qualities in sight. It’s director, Andrew Dominik, is no stranger to crime films, having directed Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Yet, Killing Them Softly’s characters and themes are strangely mesmerizing and simultaneously revolting, apparently always with a target to reach, however hazy it may be at times.
Scott McNairy as Frankie and Ben Mendelsohn as Russell are the two the most appealing performers of the bunch and they’re characters are complete opposites, Frankie, a nervous, but aggressive criminal and Russell, a humorous, drug addict with some professional qualities. They play two guys who rob a poker ring that sets off a chain reaction. Brad Pitt is not a bad actor, but once the core of the film’s action shifts to his character, Jackie Cogan, the film veers into a different path, becoming awash in its characters’ relentless malevolence.
One scene has Ray Liotta’s character, Markie Trattman, getting nearly beaten to death. The scene is extremely graphic and goes on extensively. By minute five, it becomes unnecessary and ultimately, disgusting. Last year’s Drive also had garbage for main characters and severe violence too, but whereas Drive’s displays seem somewhat artistic and controlled, Killing Them Softy’s violence is almost offensive and unrestrained, with an overt, Saw-movie like senselessness.
That is not to say Dominik isn’t a talented filmmaker. He is. But, cinema violence becomes less exciting when it’s clear the director doesn’t have many limitations and seemingly relishes in his characters’ cruelty. It just becomes excessive.
Killing Them Softly is extremely well-made, has a distinguishable style and despite its ridiculous brutality, is entertaining, sharply acted, and runs at a tight, brisk pace. It is not for everyone. In fact, it’s not for most people. But, whether you’re amused, amazed, shocked or outraged by its characters and their actions, or simply intrigued by the film’s political underpinnings, you’ll definitely never get bored watching.