Almost 40 years after Robert Mitchum starred in The Friends of Eddie Coyle Brad Pitt headlines Killing Them Softly, another hard-boiled crime thriller from the pen of the late lamented George V Higgins.
Comparing Pitt with Mitchum might not be the best way of garnering the attention of fans of this type of noirish fable but Pitt is actually incredibly good as a disciplined Mob enforcer whose preference for killing is to do it from a distance – softly, so as to not give him any trouble.
And in a cast list peppered with macho performers – James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Animal Kingdom discovery Ben Mendelsohn and Sam Shepard – it is Pitt as the taciturn, no-nonsense Jackie Cogan who brings terse reality to an underworld that most ordinary mortals never glimpse.
Jackie is brought in by a mysterious go-between acting for a committee who need to locate two low-lifes who have robbed a Mafia poker game of its winnings.
The patsy is Markie (Ray Liotta swapping leading man status for expert support) who all agree is a perfect fall guy. But that still leaves the duo who have got in too deep. Jackie knows how it will go; he just needs to let it play out.
This is a world of guns, cash, drugs and hookers. It’s dog eat dog, kill or be killed yet always within a rigid framework of rules that are apparent to veterans like Jackie and not so evident to newcomers like Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell, the latter a gleefully scuzzy Mendelsohn.
New Zealander Andrew (Chopper) Dominik, making only his third feature in 12 years, reunites with Pitt after their sterling work on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and proves why theirs is a partnership worth preserving.
This is clearly one of the best crime films of this year, or any year. Dominik and Pitt have crafted a film that has its roots in the Seventies cinema of Scorsese, De Palma and Milius. It proves – and such proof is needed – that reality is the key to a plausible crime drama, not car chases, CGI and cacophonous gunplay.
Dominik does allow himself a nudge to Sam Peckinpah with the slo-mo killing of a central character. Generally though he eschews wallowing in violence and allows his characters, principally the perfectly-cast Pitt, to speak for him. Quite superb.