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Review: The Man in Black (Killing Them Softly)


Two overwhelmed pseudo-gangsters (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendehlson) managed, by the skin of their chattering teeth, to take the score. Money is hard to come by in this small town, so the concept of robbing a card game populated by made-men doesn't seem as insane as it would during a better economy. You see they had a scapegoat sitting pretty to take the fall in Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), the head of the games who managed to pull this same scam years earlier.

These two men however are not long for this world though, Jackie Cogan has been sent to restore confidence to the board. Jackie's services are soon to be required by a corporate board left reeling after the card game left most wealthy men in the city with pockets emptied. Those men want to make sure their money never gets taken again and Cogan can guarantee that.


The scale of Killing Them Softly is considerably smaller than Dominik's last effort, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Rather than focus on a historic figure bordering on mythic, this tale centers on a hitman. This particular hitman, Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), prefers to strike from a distance, like an act of God. Anything else just gets too emotional.

Cogan prides himself on delivering services in a humane manner—or as humane as it can be for killing them.

Some have said that Killing Them Softly is a rebuke of the last two presidential administrations, but it is much more simple than that. This is a tale about crisis of faith. Whether that money be in a Wall Street institution, or placed in the hands of a man like Trattman. Cogan understand these complaints, a contract killer isn't a murderer anymore, he's a small business. Even the act of putting out a hit has been corporatized, a liaison (Richard Jenkins) must agree to approve any charges that Jackie incurs.

For as often as these moments are hammered home, the overall effect of Killing is uneven. Moments of harsh brutality and cynicism are undercut with grandiose, stylistic shots. Yet even with the occasional overreach on behalf of Andrew Dominik, the ace cast and nuanced performance of Brad Pitt make for a solid genre outing (the last line is one that stays with you out of the theatre). This image of a downtrodden America where even the underground is skimping on dollars.

***/****

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