A fun cast liven up this darkly comedic crime thriller, helping to elevate material that we've all seen a hundred times before, with everything underscored by a message that reminds people of how life is cheap, and how much cheaper it can get during times of economic recession.
The whole thing centres on a plan to knock off a crook (Markie, played by Ray Liotta) who runs a well-known card game in town. Knocking off any card game is usually a death sentence, but this particular crook once confessed that the only previous time he was robbed was an inside job that he arranged. That means that this time around the blame should fall squarely on his shoulders. Right? Well, that's supposed to be how it all works out, but the two robbers (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) are too incompetent to keep everything a secret, and the main man brought into town to clear up the mess (Jackie, played by Brad Pitt) knows that Markie wouldn't be THAT stupid. But things have to be done to restore confidence, whether Markie is guilty or not.
McNairy and Mendelsohn both do well with their roles here, but Killing Them Softly steps up a gear whenever Pitt is onscreen, his character always quick to clear away any confusing distractions and pinpoint what is needed to please bosses and get people making money again. It then steps up another gear when James Gandolfini appears, playing another body brought in to help fix the situation. Liotta is always good value, in my opinion, and Richard Jenkins provides a lot of amusement as the man relaying to Pitt's character just what action is deemed necessary to make things right.
Adapting the novel "Cogan's Trade", by George V. Higgins, writer-director Andrew Dominik may not do enough to let the film stand out from the many other crime flicks to have cropped up over the years, but he realises that the strength of the film lies in a few of the main characters and affords them some great moments. Whether it's Gandolfini throwing back Martinis as he tries to hold in a burning ball of resentment and anger or the last lines of dialogue spat out by a character summing up the entire theme of the film, every one of the leads has at least one memorable scene.
As expected, there are some moments of harsh violence. This isn't a world inhabited by girl scouts selling cookies, however, so the violence shouldn't come as a shock to any viewers, although some of it IS impressively shocking. There's also plenty of humour, as black as it is. All in all, this is a good, though unspectacular, crime flick. Not necessarily one to prioritise, but worth watching if the chance arises.