Star rating - 10/10
Smart, political, funny, violent, with whip smart dialogue, and a pitch perfect soundtrack to die for - the new film from Australian writer and director Andrew Dominik just about has it all. And throw in fantastic performances from A listers Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, and Ray Liotta - ably supported by Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn, and Killing Them Softly is simply an excellent piece of film making. Dominik's last film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which also starred Pitt, was a real treat - this one is even more special.
None of the characters in the story, which is loosely based on the crime fiction novel Cogan's Trade by George V Higgins, are particularly likeable, in fact most are pretty loathsome. McNairy plays a small time crook who helps his bigger time crook friend out, and makes himself some much needed cash into the bargain, by holding up a card school. The joint is run by Liotta who, it is commonly known amongst the criminal fraternity, pulled a stunt to hold up his own poker school some time previously - thus making him prime suspect when a repeat heist takes place. But McNairy's Australian friend (Mendelsohn) is a little less reliable than his partner, and spills the beans about the operation - probably in a drug induced haze - to someone he definitely should not have told. And all hell breaks out.
Brad Pitt is called in by the corporate masters, via their slick lawyer, to stop the rot - and to ensure the right people are dealt with. Only he likes to kill without emotion - at a distance - or softly as in the film's title. Cue an alcoholic and sex addicted Mickey (Gandolfini) who is flown in to help with the extermination mission. Except he turns out to be unfit for any such sensitive and precise work.
All the action takes place against the backdrop of the American financial crisis, and the election of Barack Obama on a tidal wave of hope for a more equal society. And the parallels are clearly drawn about the morality lessons for the American nation, and the ethics of the criminals featured in a very thought provoking way.
The interaction between the characters is reminiscent of Tarantino at his best, with the same dark actions punctuated by some very funny lines indeed. Their speech is so smart is could have been penned by Aaron Sorkin. Dominik and his excellent cast deserve all the plaudits which are surely coming their way for this brilliant portrayal of a moribund and morally bankrupt slice of American society. My film of the year so far....