"America's not a country. It's just a business."
Killing Them Softy could easily be a cookie cutter gangster meets hitman picture. Its themes, while somewhat heavy handed, act as a metaphor for the 2008 financial crisis. Australian writer/director Andrew Dominik sheds most of the crime clichés for a stripped down, insular, subversive story about struggling illegitimate businessman adapting to the crumbling economy around them.
Brad Pitt plays a mob enforcer tasked with cleaning up a mess and disposing of those responsible. Pitt's Jackie Cogan acts and seems like a reasonable businessman, one who also kills. Characters are motivated by money and earning in a bad economy.
The underrated star of the film is Scoot McNairy and his performance as the naïve but troubled criminal who sets the film's plot in motion. McNairy drives the fim's narrative and has equal screen time with Pitt who appears only after the first act. McNairy and his accomplices are hunted down by Pitt as he struggles with his own culpability. There's only a handful of characters (and no women, save for one prostitute) played by the likes of Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, and Ben Mendelsohn, who show up to deliver some great dialogue.
Dominik lavishes the film with smart, stylish direction, and more than a few sequences set to classic pop songs. There are plenty of long takes, few cuts, and characters framed from behind. News footage and speeches from Presidents Obama and Bush are inserted in between character moments to frame the dark, cynical narrative
Dominik manages to execute exactly what he aims for, melding George V. Higgins' 1974 crime novel Cogan's Trade with contemporary politics fairly adeptly. The film's economic themes essentially parallel capitalism with violent crime through clever dialogue and rather blunt political speeches. Killing Them Softly is so well acted and directed as its basic story unfolds beautifully. The violence is both gritty, unsettling, and remarkable all the time.