Killing Them Softly is cool; very, very cool. Right from its iconoclastic protag; to the nihilistic, recession-hit, and ever so slightly anachronistic world that he occupies, this is definitely not the movie for you if what you want from cinema is someone to root for. The trigger-happy people this story revolves around don't command it, or require it of us.
Stuck in the entropying vortex of life in the underworld - set against a backdrop of the 2008 elections that saw Obama calling for "hope" and "change" as the economic crisis ate away at the standards of living - is Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), the guy the mob bosses send their lawyers (hey, mobsters are people, too) to every time they need a situation cleaned up. So, one fine day, when two greenhorns Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) go rob a mob-backed poker game, it's Cogan who's called on to eliminate the two nincompoops and whoever might have put them up to it.
Claiming to prefer shooting people from a distance and "killing them softly" to avoid the emotional mess of the victims crying for mercy, Cogan sub-contracts the job to an old friend Mickey (James Gandolfini, brilliantly hilarious) in an uncharacteristic stroke of sentimentality. Thoroughly let down by the way Mickey has let himself atrophy over booze and "every kind of a** that ever existed", Cogan gets back on the job, and finishes it with a chilling competence.
The movie is based on a 1974 book called Cogan's Trade, written by George V Higgins. And it is Cogan's show all the way, as he chats you up, charms you, and makes you trust him until moments before he blows up a vital organ or two in a picturesquely gruesome shot. Every depraved performance (there is no other kind) by every actor is brilliantly done.
The whole movie is a treat to the eyes, like a cobra that captivates and hypnotizes its prey right before it swoops down on it. People get shot in every possible way: slo-mo where you can see individual blobs of flesh mingling with individual shards of glass, extra-quickly as the bullet goes right into the head and you end up with bheja-fry live, even extremely unexpectedly.
And then there's the hilariously quirkily snarky '50s and '60s music that constantly acts as a prelude to someone dying.
So we have a mostly well-written movie that looks beautiful, has brilliant performances, sounds lovely and makes you laugh at the most unexpected things. The catch? There's just way too much talk! The conversation roams and meanders all over the place as it goes through narcotic enhanced-hazes and nervous explanations and whatnot. That beautiful shot or that quirky comeback is hard to appreciate when you're trying really hard to keep yourself up.
All of this yakking around might be good for a book, but when you're seeing it on a screen, a little less conversation and a little more action, please.