Killing Them Softly is a powerful crime drama that is stylish, meaty and darkly comic. Written and directed by Andrew Dominik (The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford), Killing Them Softly is Dominik’s second successful collaboration with lead actor Brad Pitt. Based on the novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, Killing Them Softly offers a distinctive take on the hit-man genre and a fresh look at the world of organised crime.

“Brad Pitt is topped by a standout performance from James Gandolfini”

Brad Pitt gives us a solid performance as Jackie Cogan, the enforcer brought in to investigate the heist of a high stakes card game and take down those responsible. Bringing both a business-like attitude and straightforward human concern, Pitt presents us with an interesting, complex character. But Pitt is topped here by a stand-out performance from James Gandolfini as Mickey, a washed up, alcohol dependent hit-man who is brought in to help with the job. In two of the most memorable scenes from Killing Them Softly, Gandolfini captivates as Mickey discusses prison, divorce and prostitutes, looking back upon what he has achieved as of little value.

Killing Them Softly isn’t a speedy, action-packed dash through gangster life with shoot outs every few minutes – if that’s what you’re looking for, this isn’t it. Instead Killing Them Softly offers a more subtle, convincing portrayal of organised crime, backed by perceptive political commentary. As the plot ticks along, political speeches and radio broadcasts offer parallels with the world of organised crime – as necessary decisions are taken to restore confidence in the card games, a radio broadcast cleverly highlights, ‘confidence in our financial system is essential to the smooth running of our economy’. In Killing Them Softly, it is political ideals that are presented as fantasy, as Obama’s election victory speech plays out in the background, Cogan’s views are clear, ‘In America you’re on your own’.

The script is bursting with irony and astute observations and the writing is top notch with characters’ attitudes made clear in realistic, frank dialogue. Killing Them Softly is pumped full of narratives, delivered through intense exchanges between the characters that present multiple points of view.

When it is time for action, this is well delivered. Each action sequence has a different style ensuring that the visuals are never tired. From slow motion that highlights the significance of the measures taken, to speed and detail that focus on the painful reality of this violent lifestyle, the action is powerful and uncompromising. Surround sound is well used to complement the action, making Killing Them Softly one to watch at the cinema.

“Subtle and deliberate, Killing Them Softly is intelligent and thought provoking”

Throughout, Killing Them Softly has an attractive, distinctive style that is not obvious. A vintage soundtrack gives Killing Them Softly personality and lightens what might otherwise be a very dark film, while well chosen locations tell their own story about the depressing reality that belongs to the lives of low level criminals Russell and Frankie. As Russell indulges in drugs, his diminished understanding is illustrated using close ups, blurred visuals and slurred sound. This is cleverly interspersed with Frankie’s sober perspective, represented by crystal clear images and speech, making for one of the most well constructed drugs scenes of recent times.

Killing Them Softly is a first rate crime drama with a strong script brought to life by a first-rate cast. Subtle and deliberate, Killing Them Softly is intelligent and thought provoking. Don’t miss James Gandolfini’s upstaging performance as the emotionally damaged, washed-up hit-man.

VERDICT: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭  5/5

For more information, see the official website

To see the trailer for Killing Them Softly along with my other Must See Movies of 2012, visit my YouTube channel here.