Andrew Dominik follows up his beautifully-shot western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford with the sharply-filmed political drama Killing Them Softly, starring Brad Pitt. Killing Them Softly is far from subtle, often presenting its political agenda in an on-the-nose fashion, but that’s precisely why Dominik’s raw and far from glamorous mobster movie hits it out of the park. Killing Them Softly is a cold piece of art that functions on multiple levels at once.
Jackie (Brad Pitt) is the enforcer. When a mob protected card game gets hijacked he gets called in by the higher ups to clean up the mess. Last time a card game got robbed a well-liked man by the name of Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) blabbered out that he had his hand in it and that he and some hired henchmen made off with some good stacks of cash, but because of it the entire financial structure of the criminal underworld collapsed, thus causing many people to lose some money.
Now another game is hit and Driver (Richard Jenkins) calls in Jackie to clean up the mess. He instantly realizes that the two idiots that did the robbing (played by Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) have no ties with Markie, but the situation has risen far above simply killing who did it. Now, he must straighten out the word both on the streets and in the books, which means bringing in an out-of-town hitman by the name of Mickey (James Gandolfini).
Jackie quickly realizes that Mickey isn’t the hired help that he once was, which means that he’s going to have to get his own hands dirty to clean up this mess and maintain the balance of the local criminal economy.
Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly is unlike anything that I’ve ever seen before. On the surface it presents itself as a stripped down and often far from glamorous look at the criminal world. Dominik shoots the killing with a realistic and brute lens, revealing lots of blood and hard-hitting. Killing Them Softly isn’t your typical Hollywood crime drama. It’s much slower and more calculated, while also revealing its own secondary agenda rather obviously.
Dominik’s film literally shows the criminal economy collapsing while also expanding out onto a much larger canvas, which works in alignment with America’s recent financial collapse and just how many people and organizations that can effect. The film’s on-the-nose politics might annoy many, but I found the approach rather refreshing. Everything is openly presented, allowing for a drama that’s simple, yet full of hidden subtext.
Characters carry double meanings and scenes end up working on multiple levels at once. All of this is bundled with Dominik’s trademark imagery, which can be described as a mix between Terrence Malick and Martin Scorsese.
Killing Them Softly is a stylish and relentless look at America’s economy and just how screwed it was at this particular point in time. Brad Pitt gives a cold and sometimes heartless performance as the film’s only character that sees the bigger picture, while supporting roles by James Gandolfini, Scoot McNairy and Richard Jenkins rarely go to waste. Dominik is one of the most methodical filmmakers working today and I sure hope he doesn’t take another extensive break before dropping another film as strong as Killing Them Softly onto the world.
Anchor Bay brings Killing Them Softly to Blu-Ray with a flawless 1080p video transfer. The film was one of the best-looking releases on the big screen in 2012 and now one of the finest presented Blu-Rays of 2013. Dominik makes great use of his canvas, providing us with a rich amount of style and precision. The film’s transfer highlights all of Dominik’s hard work with deep black levels and a consistent amount of cool and natural colors. The film looks absolutely astonishing, despite the broken down locations and beat-up characters.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track exceeds even the most realistic of expectations. The film’s opening credits act as a perfect example of just how elaborate the lossless track really is. It’s always mixing up its approach, coming through the front and back channels in even doses. Dialog is traditionally presented on the front channels, while subtle effects such as rain and general walking can be heard with remote clarity on the back channels. Dominik’s film contains a lot of dialog-free moments that acts as great ways to blend the film’s always-active environment with the audience and this track captures those moments with phenomenal clarity.
Unfortunately the combo pack only comes with a few short special features. Here’s a detailed list:
- Deleted Scenes (HD): Four short deleted scenes that make up for ten extra minutes.
- The Making of Killing Them Softly (HD): A way too short making-of that features the cast and crew discussing their experiences working with director Andrew Dominik and star Brad Pitt. Dominik is also seen briefly discussing the film’s overlying message and what he was trying to achieve while shooting it.
- DVD Copy
- Digital Copy
- UltraViolet Digital Copy
Killing Them Softly is one of the best films of 2012. Andrew Dominik’s ability to make such a stripped down crime noir that both looks exceptional and constantly works on multiple thematic levels is something that not many filmmakers have the talent to do. Dominik’s film might not be loaded with action or a twisty story, but it’s almost always telling two stories at once, while providing enough on-screen violence to please any fans of mobster films.
Brad Pitt’s mysterious and often-quiet performance is another fine example of the actor’s vast range in Hollywood, showing us that he can do so much with so little. Scoot McNairy and James Gandolfini also help the film’s supporting cast feel just as important to the film as Pitt’s leading role.
But what makes Killing Them Softly a possible all-timer is Dominik’s direction, which is not once confused and instead always operating on level of precision that most directors will never reach in their career. Killing Them Softly is a reflection of corporate greed, America’s own financial collapse and more importantly a shining example of just how important every cog is to the overall working machine. Take away one tiny thing and you offset the entire organization from the ground on up.
Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray release is perfect, highlighting Dominik’s amazing camerawork with a 1080p video transfer that’s spotless and a 5.1 DTS-HD audio track that fully utilizes each and every channel. The only real bummer here is the lack of bonus material, but the inclusion of a DVD and digital copy makes it a worthwhile purchase despite its special features shortcomings.
Killing Them Softly is a potent crime noir masterpiece directed with an extreme amount of style and precision by Andrew Dominik. Brad Pitt’s relentless performance pairs well with Dominik — the very definition of a true auteur.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.