Killing Them Softly is a new release from acclaimed yet unprolific director Andrew Dominik, the man behind gritty 2000 biopic ''Chopper'' and the critically lauded ''The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford'' in 2007. The huge gap between both previous films is unexplained, which is curious considering the wide praise both received. So upon Dominik's return to filmmaking 5 years later with Killing Them Softly, a gangland thriller which sees him reuniting with Brad Pitt, it would be natural to have high expectations.
The large void which the gangster film genre is currently experiencing this century is easily understood- an exceptional list of films came from it, and since the likes of ''The Godfather'' I & II, ''Goodfellas'', ''Pulp Fiction'', ''Scarface'' and groundbreaking HBO drama ''The Sopranos'', most would feel it is territory that has been covered, sealed and shut. And so 12 years since the millenium, it would seem that with the exception of Martin Scorcese's ''The Departed'' in 2006, we haven't experienced a 21st century gangster classic, leaving the market wide open and perhaps meaning that the timing of Killing Them Softly has been quite shrewd. So, how does it hold up in comparison to what has come before? Well, mostly it doesn't, and mainly because Killing Them Softly takes a very different approach to the crime genre, with mixed results.
Set in New Orleans, the story follows a heist gone wrong, as hopeless criminal junkies Frankie and Russell (played by Scoot McNairy and the wonderful Ben Mendelsohn) stick up a big time card game with disasterous concequences. Wrongly suspected of involvement with the robbery is Markie Trattman, potrayed by Ray Liotta, while professional hitman Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is drafted in to get answers and deal with those responsible for the missing money.
Pitt is his usual self and puts in an assured central performance which holds the film together from start to finish, while Mendelsohn's turn as the despicable Russell is tragic yet hilarious. Another impressive performance comes in the shape of James Gandalfini, who successfully shakes himself of the shadow of Tony Soprano while potraying a heartbroken, alcoholic hitman who seems more interested in drinking himself into a coma instead of the job at hand. Liotta, however, feels under used and Richard Jenkins' screen time is also brief and underwhelming.
While the film is successful in it's stylish, refreshing attitude and contains an undeniably brilliant cast, the pacing of Killing Them Softly is it's main problem, as it fails to ever really lift off the ground and hit full power. Fans expecting action will be disappointed; Killing Them Softly is as laid back as the gangster genre gets, and it's best features are in it's witty, clever dialogue and the underlying political message which is carried throughout in the form of Barack Obama and George Bush's constant radio and televsion presence, which ties in skillfully with the money obsessed criminals in the failing economic climate of New Orleans.
In stark contrast to Dominik and Pitt's last collaboration (which many found to be overlong and impossibly slow), Killing Them Softly is short and sweet at just 97 minutes and doesn't outstay it's welcome, but while some would complain of it's limited running time, there was no need for it to be any longer.
Overall, while Killing Them Softly will never compete with modern crime classics such as ''The Departed'', the unusual style it encorporates makes it memorable in its own right and it deserves to be seen.