Killing Them Softly should be a simple story. 30 minutes tops. A couple smacked out losers rob a mafia gambling ring, acting with only the faintest assurance that the game’s runner will take the heat. An enforcer’s called in, determines the guilty parties and dispatches them in efficient but gory style.
This could’ve served as a one of the Godfather’s myraid tangents without tacking too much onto the running time. Call Luca Brasi. In, out, done. But times aren’t so simple.
Killng them Softly is set against the onset of the financial crisis that chased out George W Bush and ushered in the that initial wave of Obama optimism. Mafia films tend to sell a particularly empowering narrative. Break some arms, shoot some guys who deserve it and claim all the riches the American Dream entails, at least for a little while. “Killing them Softly” may be the first film where “organized crime” is more apt than mafia. This isn’t Rocky Balboa breaking thumbs for twenty dollars. It’s clear that Brad Pitt and Ray Liotta here represent a wide reaching corporation. One that exists in parallel with the faltering American businesses at the tail end of the G.W. Bush administration. Its as if the mafia and Goldman Sachs executives studied the same curriculum at business school.
Instead of a Don, there’s a board of middle managers, all of whom anonymous and too timid to quickly address the crime. Need to fly a hit man in from out of town? That’ll take an expense report. Your liason?
What culture does this foster?
Brad Pitt walked out of casting for a 70s Scorsese picture, that era with overpowered cars and where a character or two was smart enough to have a philosophy and sense of the larger world. It doesn’t matter much,
“Killing them Softly” has all the pieces for a winning dark comedy, however it plays it pretty straight all the way through, too self conscious for its own good. Who would be so obvious as to score a dope scene to the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin”? As a bit of experiment, I wonder how much more interesting it would be if James Gandolfini played the enforcer and Brad Pitt the loser...