Just finished watching this evening a film from director Andrew Dominik called ‘Killing Them Softly‘ starring the ever popular Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan, a mob enforcer and trouble shooter of sorts in 2008. Jackie has been called to Florida to find out who has robbed a mob sanctioned card game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) and bring order back to the local underworld as the shady characters who populate this world have lost confidence and no longer feel secure to play at these games.
The game is robbed by two low level crooks, Frankie (Scoot McNairy), a young ex con who doesn’t want to join the world of minimum wage work in under class America and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), who is an Australia heroin addict and mouthy, ball buster extraordinaire who is ‘gettin’ rich’ breeding dogs and selling to retirees in Florida, though is someone who is a magnet for trouble in all guises. They are tipped off by Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) that Markie has had trouble with his running of card games before when it was robbed a few years ago. That time, he robbed it himself (with the help of others) but got away with it and everyone knew he did, so if a card game under his supervision were to be robbed again the mob would suspect he had done it again and kill him, leaving the three of them free from scrutiny.
The robbery goes ahead as planned and Jackie is called in to sort the mess out, with the help of ‘New York’ Mickey (James Gandolfini) who is having something of an existential crisis and not finding it easy to take (I wonder where I have seen Gandolfini do something like that before?) as he may have to go to prison for a number of years and his wife (who he loves) wants a divorce from him if this is the case. He takes to killing himself as slowly as possible by drinking heavily, seeing as much of ‘the talent’ available within a square mile of hotel and wallowing in feelings of self-pity, sorrow and schadenfreude with his own existence, as opposed to focusing on the task he has been brought down to Florida to look after.
The film is at times shot or directed in such a way where there is obvious nods to more art-house style cinema, whether it is the intro itself with the use of unnerving light and white sound until the camera and shot comes into the light to show us an America rusting and decaying in front of our eyes or where it rather unsubtly superimposes and uses excerpts from speeches and addresses of the last months of the Bush Presidency and its dealings with the financial crisis, together with the election of President Obama and his oratorical flushes to show us how this is even having an effect on the underworld and its very own economy.
Banks being unable to lend to customers and ensuing job losses is akin to both Frankie and Russell robbing a card game; gangsters no longer have confidence in the safety available at the games and thus do not go near them, that and they have lost substantial sums they wished to gamble to unknown and faceless thieves much like in the wider economy or on ‘Main Street‘. Further, we have the central message of the Obama team of hope, change throughout America and the slogan of ‘Yes We Can‘ played over and over again on top of the reality of a country falling apart or stagnating owing to corporate decision making paralysis and faceless organisations, whether government, finance or mob bosses that remain unaccountable to even those who interact with them.
Pitt puts in a good stint and is always a joy to watch, though he seems to be playing this role often; the guy who is good and honest in his job or field, who has no back doors and what you see is what you get, who is short, sharp and to the point like in the film ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford‘ where he played the lead, a man who killed and robbed yet was charismatic and lived by certain rules of morality and justice, or Rusty Ryan in the ‘Ocean‘ franchise or maybe at a stretch probably his most infamous and favorite role as Tyler Durden in ‘Fight Club‘, it is a role that I personally enjoy watching, he clearly enjoys playing but you have to wonder how many more times can he reprise this in the future.
Jackie is a practical man who understands how things work on main street, including how matters are perceived. He has to deal with essentially a mob PA (Richard Jenkins) who is an office man and has no experience of the practicalities of the operation of a crime syndicate and is dealing with a risk averse management who have effectively grown detached from reality due to time and progression from street corner hoods to de facto CEOs.
I liked the film but felt it was something I had kind of seen before. I thought it was an interesting concept to tie in Jackie’s work with what was going on in the States at the time and how this effected everything that was happening. Jackie ridicules the Obama campaign and it’s central tenement that America is a community, for him, there is no community, he is on his own. America, for him, is not a country, it is a business and he wants what he has worked for and was promised.
Go rent it out on Netflix or from a store, it’s a good, late night mid-week movie and about 90 minutes long.