Numerous elements distinguish “Killing Them Softly” from other violent crime films. To begin, the dialogue sounds fresh and natural coming from well-drawn characters instead of the usual cardboard cutouts. In-charge hit man Jackie expresses thoughts about his role and initiates calm, serious confrontations with the has-been killer Mickey who can’t deliver on his end of the deal. The intermediary between them and the mob, a nameless driver, represents corporate mentality, commenting on mistakes made and necessary “corrections.” It’s involved and involving, especially when the 2008 Obama campaign speeches and President Bush’s pronouncements on financial stability comment none too subtly on this parallel world of corruption.
Second, the acting is nuanced and magnificent: Brad Pitt as Jackie, James Gandolfini as Mickey, Richard Jenkins as the go-between, Ray Liotta as the man running the poker game, and supporting players Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy. Without any showboating, these smart actors know how to hold a scene and make it sing, listen to each other, and deliver their lines with finesse. It’s a master class to watch Pitt and Gandolfini and Pitt and Jenkins interact and react to each other.
Technically, as detailed in October’s American Cinematographer magazine, D.P. Greig Fraser favors a sharp foreground focus falling into soft, even blurred shadows in the background. His lighting bathes images with muted colors. Fraser creates an impressionistic tone poem as one absolutely stunning killing captures the bullet being shot at 12,000 frames per second. Flashing light and reflections, shattering glass, and slow motion reactions make it intensely beautiful and horrifying, a death dance.
Sound works as effectively: quiet dominates some tense moments while songs comment sardonically. In one scene, the violence sounds and looks “rude and shocking.” It’s repulsive, THE effect Dominic says he wanted.
A counterpoint to American dream rhetoric, “Killing Them Softly” ranks among the finest interrogations of misguided greed. And a masterful director guides its course, right on target. At area theatres.