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'Killing Them Softly': What the Critics Are Saying

Killing Them Softly
The Weinstein Company

Brad Pitt stars in director Andrew Dominik's crime film, based on George V. Higgins' 1974 crime novel "Cogan's Trade."

Brad Pitt reunites with writer-director Andrew Dominik for his crime drama Killing Them Softly, based on George V. Higgins' 1974 crime novel Cogan’s Trade. The Moneyball actor last worked with Dominik when he starred in the 2007 Western, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Playing a professional enforcer hired to track down the robbers of a mob-protected card game, Pitt’s performance has been described by critics as “the main reward” of the film, which received a score of 84 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. While praise is given to Pitt, the Killing Them Softly's overall plot and politics received less admiration. 

Read below to see what top critics are saying:

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The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy noted what should be gained from watching Killing Them Softly: “What matter more are style and attitude, which Dominik ladles on like sauce on ribs.”

“Russell’s drug-addled disorientation is represented by multiple distortions of time, visual perception and sound; the pursuit of one victim is imaginatively covered entirely from the outside of the building in which the chase is consummated; Cogan arrives on the scene to the accompaniment of Johnny Cash’s 'The Man Comes Around'; the just-scraping-by 21st century hoods drive late-‘60s/early-‘70s cars like a Riviera and Toronado; and one man’s execution is rendered from many angles in a slow-motion explosion of breaking glass and penetrating bullets so elaborate and prolonged that it resembles a self-standing art installation," McCarthy explained in his review."

Christy Lemire from Associated Press saw the message portrayed in the film, explaining that “At the other end of the aesthetic spectrum is the artfully graphic pummeling some of these characters take, particularly Ray Liotta as the guy who runs the card game in question (and once got caught trying to rob it himself). The hard thwack of a fist against a jaw matches the pummel of rain and the splatter of blood. Bullets fire from a handgun in super-slow motion, piercing the raindrops, then a car window, then someone's skull. It's all very painstaking and cool-looking (the work of the gifted cinematographer Greig Fraser) but it also feels like part of a prevalent cynicism, given the film's heavy-handed message.”

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A. O. Scott of the New York Times appreciated the acting, but wasn't as impressed with the movie itself. “It can be a pleasure to watch them all work, even in what turns out to be a disappointing job. Higgins was a genre magician," Scott opined. "Mr. Dominik is a clever hand at genre pastiche, and the result is a movie, like The Assassination of Jesse James, that is sapped of vitality by its own self-conscious, curatorial fastidiousness. It takes place entirely in a universe of tropes and archetypes, which is a polite way of saying clichés and pretensions.”

Vulture’s David Edelstein offered his thoughts on the film’s direction: “Everything in Killing Them Softly that springs from George V. Higgins’ 1974 crime novel Cogan’s Trade is very fine: grimly amusing then shockingly brutal. It’s when New Zealand–born director and screenwriter Andrew Dominik veers off course to give us his deep thoughts on the American character that it’s a head-slapper.”

Time's Richard Corliss applauded Pitt's performance, expressing that “Despite the colorfully rancid exertions of the supporting players, and enough dirty punches to flatten Rocky Balboa in all six movies, the main reward for your attention is Pitt in another effortless star performance. Following his triumphs in 2011′s The Tree of Life and Moneyball, he shows again how to elevate a film with skill, charisma and no sweat. In this rancid milieu, he comes out smelling like Chanel No. 5.”

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Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips gave the film three stars: “The picture offers some easy, brutal laughs and some harder ones, and now and then, it finds a way to make the laughter stick in your craw. Jenkins' line applies to the film as a whole. Killing Them Softly isn't anything major. But it's a pungent minor film only vaguely resembling the one The Weinstein Co. is advertising, and that's fine with me.”

Giving it one less star than Phillips, Roger Ebert remarked: “It seems as if I’ve been seeing versions of this story since forever. A cast is assembled from various flavors of tough guys, they’re placed in a dreary and joyless cityscape, they hold a series of fraught conversations, there is a great deal of suffering and blood, and most of them are required to die by the end. Ideally, the plot also involves romance, humor and suspense, and tense scenes involving exact timing. Not here. All Killing Them Softly takes from the limitless universe of film noir is the night and the city.”

Killing Them Softly opens in theaters Friday.