In 2008, as the financial crisis peaked, America split its time between freaking out and talking about the difference between Wall Street and Main Street. Apparently, we should have been thinking about Mean Street—about two-bit thugs becoming one-bit triggermen and assassins demoted to errand boys. That seems to be Andrew Dominik’s thesis, and the Aussie director spends the whole of Killing Them Softly
examining the financial crisis from the perspective of the thugs, junkies, bookies, gangsters, card sharks, murderers and numbskulls who make up the underbelly of Everytown, U.S.A. At its base is would-be gangster Frankie (Scoot McNairy), who is duped into a “foolproof” plan to hold up a local card game run by a small-time hustler (Ray Liotta), only to jack so much money that the criminal economy collapses. Killing
immerses us in a world of loquacious criminal archetypes. Only, instead of talking about pop culture, these degenerates are keener to bitch about bank accounts and feelings in a way that, in any other film, would get them pistol-whipped by the nearest dwarf resembling Joe Pesci. Brad Pitt’s mysterious mob enforcer is the only non-emo thug in the bunch. Still, Dominik manages cinematic poetry throughout, from the offbeat sound design to the horrific violence that sends any conversational whimsy screeching to a halt. But he seems to want an update of Mean Streets
for a new generation of deep thinkers. Instead, he’s made the American equivalent of a Guy Ritchie film—kinetic, violent, talky and hip, to be sure, but generally empty despite its grand gestures and big talk.