While crime fiction with an edge of both menace and wit have become mainstays on TV, movies haven't been able to consistently blend the two in recent years, with most attempts seeming either too hyperbolic and action-y or too self-consciously noir-y.
Now comes Killing Them Softly, which may be the best hard-boiled crime film since The Departed. Directed by Andrew Dominik (who did the overrated Terrence Malick impression, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Killing Them Softly brings things back to the exceptionally mean streets of South Boston.
The seemingly obvious touchstones here are the films of Ben Affleck, particularly The Town. But though Killing Them Softly treads the same contemporary streets of south Boston (actually New Orleans) as The Town, Affleck's film was a story of modern criminals -- but the soul of Dominik's film is the 1974 novel of the late George V. Higgins, Cogan's Trade, on which it is based.
So there's a distinctly '70s feel to this world, which is full of talkers instead of doers. Sure, the talking eventually leads to the doing; but really, this movie is as much about the talk as a Tarantino film.
Instead of dealing in any way with women, who distract men from crime as they did in The Town, Killing Them Softly focuses on a world of men. It's an old order, hard to crush. The one woman who seems to get to speak is a foul-mouthed hooker, who gives as good as she gets in an exchange with James Gandolfini.
The story is the same as in Higgins' novel. A trio of small-timers (Vincent Curatola, Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) collude to commit an armed robbery on a Mob-protected card game. So it behooves the Mob to track these jokers down and make an example of them - and anyone else who might look like they were in on it, just to be safe.
The contractor dealing with this particular bit of piecework is Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), who discusses terms with the local syndicate's attorney (Richard Jenkins, in a wonderfully persnickety performance). Jackie's job is to find out who did it and then eliminate them. Permanently.
This review continues on my website.