As violently cynical as it is straight-up violent, Andrew Dominik’s dingy but dexterous peek into the American lowlife is soaked in red, but green’s the only color any of its characters see. Set in an unrecognizable industrial New Orleans at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, it’s easy to think of Killing Them Softly as a recession-era crime flick, but it’s less a street-level indictment of Wall Street crookery than it is a stark reminder that it’s always been every man for his damn self.
After two dim hoods (Scott McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) knock off a card game run by the distrustful Markie (Ray Liotta), string-pullers set up hitman Jackie (Brad Pitt) with a nameless suit (Richard Jenkins) to suss out the next step. Morose middle managers both, the two are nearly parental in their disapproval of the talent above and below them. Their groans about “public angles” and “corporate mentalities” could easily describe the doldrums of a glum cubicle job — they just happen to rely on the skull-cracking business to make their mortgage.
Scored at its best with thematic political jabber and at its worst with too-obvious cuts (“Heroin” for a shooting-up scene, foreal?), it’s a movie seasoned by attitudes — the mournful ache of a former great who’s drunk himself dead (James Gandolfini), the kiddish nonchalance of a reprobate (Slaine) scolded for pocketing a paltry tip off a coffee-shop table. But it’s Dominik’s ambitious and artful insistence that gangsters deal with the same bureaucracy as us white-hats that keeps the pistol from jamming.