When an actor becomes such a global megastar it’s sometimes easy to forget how they rose to such notoriety. Luckily, Brad Pitt’s performance in Killing Them Softly is a welcome reminder of the talent he possesses. Set against the backdrop of the 2008 US Presidential election race, Pitt plays a frank and jaded mob enforcer hired to track down the two masked gunmen who hit up a local protected poker game run by dodgy double-dealer Markie (Ray Liotta).
Whilst Brad Pitt is brilliant in this screen adaptation of the 1974 novel, Cogan’s Trade, by George V Higgins, Scoot McNairy is undoubtedly the best thing in the entire piece. McNairy’s portrayal of one half of the robbing duo is simply outstanding, stealing every scene he is in and outshining even Pitt in a breath taking bar scene that cements the audience’s emotional attachment to the character. One can’t help but root for him throughout the entire film.
Also in the mix is Mickey (James Gandolfini), an old acquaintance of Pitt’s and a hit man for hire, whose help is enlisted. But after years in the business and a few stints in jail under his belt he’s starting to feel the strain of the job. Turning to drink and prostitutes to cope with his life Pitt soon realises he is not the elite killer he once was.
The bleak storyline is mirrored perfectly by the mise-en-scene of the film and with an eighteen rating, the violence is decidedly harrowing. One scene in particular involving Ray Liotta is a test of endurance for the audience and is truly unsettling. But that’s not to say violence is all this film offers. In fact the action is pretty few and far between. This is not a typical gangster film and goes above and beyond the expected conventions. It uses violent scenes deliberately and sparingly which means when they do appear on screen they make much more of an impact.
What takes priority is the outstanding writing. As well as directing, Andrew Dominik did an excellent job adapting the book for the big screen, delivering a dynamic script that encapsulates the state of the US with accuracy and makes the audience wait until the very last scene to deliver the most powerful and pertinent monologue.