Movie Review: 'Killing Them Softly' -- 3 stars

Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan in "Killing Them

Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan in "Killing Them Softly." (Credit: Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan in "Killing Them Softly." )

Killing Them Softly
3 stars
Directed by Andrew Dominik
Starring Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins
Rated R

"Killing Them Softly" takes place in a familiar cinematic world of hitmen and mobsters. But it's far from the usual portrait of insular families, friendships and betrayals.

A profoundly nihilistic enterprise, this stylized drama posits that the crime universe depicted here is an every man-for-himself business, a capitalist enterprise severely affected -- along with its free-wheeling, deregulated "legitimate" counterparts -- by the economic collapse of Sept. 2008.

There's not much emotion in this Brad Pitt vehicle, or a conventional story arc, or a single character worth caring about. But the writer-director Andrew Dominik, adapting the George V. Higgins novel "Cogan's Trade," brings the project a grim, hopeless feel that resonates.

Pitt plays enforcer Jackie Cogan, assigned to enact vengeance after some thugs rob a mob-sponsored card game. Hair slicked back, clad in a leather jacket, Cogan cuts a suave, confident figure as he steadfastly goes about his business.

But it's the fall of 2008 and the world around him is collapsing. Dominik effectively parallels the dissolution of Cogan's way of doing business -- his handler (Richard Jenkins) tries to stiff him, a trusted associate (James Gandolfini) crumbles psychologically -- with the broader turmoil sweeping the country at that time.

The writer-director sprinkles in familiar soundbites from then Sen. Barack Obama and President George W. Bush to enhance the comparison, while utilizing superimpositions and other expressive techniques that illustrate the dark nature of this shadowy underworld.

It's a weighty allegory and, ultimately, a convincing one.

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