Lovers of the crime novels of George V. Higgins will likely get a kick out of “Killing Them Softly,” a recession-era reworking of his “Cogan’s Trade” starring a (literally) bang-up cast that includes Brad Pitt as a cucumber-cool mob enforcer, Ray Liotta as a mob-protected card-game dealer, Richard Jenkins as a button-down mob go-between, and James Gandolfini as a hit man on the skids.
The recessionary context is a bit overdone – too many clips of George W. Bush and President Obama delivering pronouncements – and the conceit that crime is a business like any other business is timeworn. Also, the film’s violence quotient is, I think, a notch too high for its purposes.
But the dialogue is sharp and so are the performances. Andrew Dominik directed this neo-noir in a low-key comic style that’s alternately gritty and fancy. The gritty stuff is best. Grade: B+ (Rated R for violence, sexual references, pervasive language, and some drug use.)