In May, "Killing Them Softly" proved to be one of the highlights of the Cannes Film Festival. Now the film, currently in theaters, is earning largely favorable reviews, though some critics feel that the filmmakers could have hammered their points home a little more...softl. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has recieved a respectable 79% rating, based on 149 reviews.
Directed by Andrew Dominik, who helmed the underrated "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" in 2007, "Killing Them Softly" stars Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Scott McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn and Ray Liotta.
The crime thriller, which centers on the aftermath of a high-stakes poker game gone wrong, is based on the 1974 George V. Higgins novel "Cogan's Trade." Though the book is set in the '70s, the film takes place in post-Katrina New Orleans in 2008. The recession, presidential campaign and election of President Obama all factor into the grim story.
Eric Kohn of Indie Wire noted the film's critique of political culture.
"[Dominik] has constructed a provocative revisionist history that beats the original Obama election message of hope and progress to a bloody mass," Kohn said.
Several critics have praised Pitt's performance as a socially conscious, folk music loving hit man.
"Pitt, entering his third decade of fame, continues to show how there was always a deadly serious actor in him all along," Joe Neumaier of The Daily News said. "Worn out but with an underlying humanity and work ethic — the title refers to how he does his hits — Pitt makes Jackie a scruffily generous soul."
Mike LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that the film acts as a showcase of Pitt's talent and growth as an actor.
"Brad Pitt is in ecstasy here, despite the cool demeanor throughout. This is an actor who is never better and never happier than when he gets to be seedy, slick his hair back and wear a leather jacket," said LaSalle. "It's probably a handsome-guy thing -John Barrymore was like that, too, a leading man who loved to be a character actor. It's strange to say this about someone who has been insanely popular for 20 years, but Pitt may be coming into his own right around now. His exterior and his interior are just beginning to converge."
CNN's Tom Charity added that Gandolfini's scene-stealing role as a hard-drinking killer is one of the film's highlights.
"Gandolfini is brutal in this role, all his tenderness turned vicious and repulsive through self-pity," Charity said. "But still, at least we discern the ashes of emotion in this wreck of a man."
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly concluded that the drama paints a powerful portrait of economic hardship and the fight for survival.
"'Killing Them Softly' is set in late 2008, during the economic collapse (we see background TV clips of Bush and Obama), and it says that the system is rigged, that the cutthroats we're watching are acting out the greedy, rotten impulses of the whole society. That's an awfully grand indictment to balance on the backs of thieves and murderers, yet the movie makes it work. It's a mesmerizing tale of kill-or-be-killed capitalist desperation."
A few critics found fault with the film, including Calum Marsh of Slant.
"The film's cynicism, like everything else, is nothing more than empty posturing, a fashionable pose adopted to ingratiate itself with a disenfranchised public," Marsh wrote.
Alonso Duralde of The Wrap lost his patience with the heavy-handed subtext of the film, which he felt was an insult to audiences.
"The occasional moments of brilliance are far outweighed by the constant references to 2008’s economic collapse and bank bailout. Having the radio or TV report this news once or twice to make a point about organized crime and capitalism? Fine. Shoehorning it into the film a dozen or so times? Enough already."
Though the film will have a hard time competing with the likes of "Breaking Dawn: Part 2" and "Skyfall" at the box office, those looking for an artful alternative to mainstream popcorn fare may find much to enjoy about "Killing Them Softly."
"Killing Them Softly" is now in theaters.