Killing Me Softly is based on the crime novel Cogan’s Trade written by George V. Higgins. The movie is grim and brutal. Andrew Dominik is the director and screenwriter of the flick that stars Brad Pitt. It is set in the early seventies in New Orleans but there are times when the action is interrupted by news from the 2008 presidential election on the TV and radio.
If Higgins is still around, then he would have complained about Dominik’s interpolations in Killing Them Softly. The book is the link between pulp fiction of the fifties and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Cogan’s Trade is about a heist and its aftermath. The book’s plot is told through winding conversations as the narrative comes into focus. The novel’s tone is morally neutral with a slight pathos for criminals who are too dim to think about the consequences of their actions as they are dispatched with Darwinian logic.
Brad Pitt plays the Darwinian hitman. He is a master enforcer who thinks about the consequences of other people’s actions. He is cold but not sadistic. He kills them softly and doesn’t make them suffer needlessly. Cogan thinks that prolonging agony is bad.
Aside from Pitt, Killing Them Softly also features Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta. The best scenes in Killing Them Softly are the poker-faced dialogues between Pitt and Richard Jenkins, who plays a mob bureaucrat middleman. He delivers it straight up with no winking. Pitt is the same.
Director Dominik uses Killing Them Softly as a way to attack Corporate America. He didn’t have to include Obama’s hope and change speeches or It’s Only a Paper Moon on the soundtrack. He proves that he has talent but he needs to keep his impulses in check. Killing Them Softly shows that he is not just a genre director.