Andrew Dominik's 'Killing Them Softly' Best Mob Flick Since 'The Departed'
By John Kays
"Shut up, you f*ck," Barry said. He hit Trattman very hard, twice, in the pit of the stomach. Trattman started to double over with the impact of the first punch. The second brought a rush of air from his mouth. Steve and Barry stepped back two paces, quickly. Trattman fell forward on the pavement and vomited half-digested steak and salad, and blood. He lay on his chest, his head resting on its left side. He breathed noisily." Cogan's Trade George V. Higgins Vintage Crime
An arty Mob flick? Yes, with Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly, where you get to experience a heroin buzz from the perspective of the junkie who shot the stuff in the first place (Ben Mendelsohn playing the slime-bag Russell), against the Velvets Heroin. This is the best Mob film I've seen in more than decade! Well, maybe, Martin Scorsese's The Departed was the last best. For the breakdown, get yourself to a well-fitted bookstore and pick-up George V. Higgins' 1974 rock-solid hard boiler, Cogan's Trade.
Not that Andrew Dominik sticks strictly to the hard-to-find crime fiction book, but you'll want to get your bearings as to plot, feel, and saucy, snappy street dialogue, which Dominick adheres to religiously. I must add, however, the year is changed to 2008, from the early 1970s, I should think. The location of the action is moved from the mean streets of Boston, to the equally mean streets of New Orleans. Furthermore, the economic crisis of say, 1973, is displaced with the harrowing pecuniary pit-hole of 2008.
A little hard to pull off, but it works, with trash blowing in the wind on the grimy streets of New Orleans, when the two low-down screw ups meet to pay a visit to Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) on a for sure thing, an easy score, a safe as a baby deal, where they can come into some big bucks. This is why I told you to getcha the hard boiler paperback, 'cuz you get lots of extras, the two punks' past in prison, and some of their glory day scams, merely in the rearview mirror now. The scum dogs need to score again, 'cuz times are harder than steel!
Don't want to show my cards, but the card game heist is to die for, with a sawed-off shotgun that looks more like a dueling pistol used by either Al Hamilton or Aaron Burr so many times begone. I was so nervous during the heist scene; I was twitching, sweating, and scratching in my cheap, broken Cinemark chair (Killing Them Softly was screened in one of those smaller rooms). Loved the cheesy abandoned warehouse they used for the shoot; didn't catch the getaway car model, but it was perfect vintage 1970s (nice and trashy).
Ray Liotta as the thieving hustler, Markie Trattman, plays the scene to the T, but payback time is right around the corner big time for the conniving, but slick Markie, who's a Made Man, but formerly hit his own card game and got away with it, temporarily at least. If I can dance lightly around one of the most superbly rendered (amply arty) hits, or take outs in cinematic history (ala Mob flicks), I'll certainly do so, but think keenly of high-caliber bullets flying through space in slow motion, cracking human skull like it's a coconut! Do it again, then do it again; bye bye Markie!
Alright, so there's lots of other stuff you need to zero in on, like a fly on the wall, or an FBI wire honing in on a sensitive conversation between sensible business men, just trying to make a contribution to a faltering economy. But see it for yourself and read beaucoup George V. Higgins, if you can find any. The ending will bring you down somewhat, 'cuz Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) gets shorted on his pay, shorted five grand per hit. Dillon got 15 K per hit, but Dillon's dead now. Times are hard, and box office receipts were light over the weekend. But nothing good's coming out, so it will pick up, I think, for Killing Them Softly. Come around!
John Kays identifies timeless remnants from our past that will endure, or be admired by future generations. Read more stories by John Kays.
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