Box art for Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly

drama, thrillers

During the economic turmoil of 2008, Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), an enforcer, is hired to restore order after three idiots rob a mob-protected poker game.

Rotten Tomatoes® scores

  • Critic Score
  • Audience Score

common sense

PAUSE for kids age 17
0 out of 5
5 out of 5
Positive messages
0 out of 5
Positive role models
0 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
3 out of 5
3 out of 5
4 out of 5

Brad Pitt is magnetic in smart, cynical, bloody crime movie.

what parents need to know

Parents need to know that Killing Them Softly -- a crime movie based on a 1970s novel by George V. Higgins and starring Brad Pitt -- has a few extremely violent beatings and killings, with lots of spurting blood. Language is also very strong and frequent, including an almost constant use of "f--k." One character is shown having slept with a prostitute (though there's no nudity), and there's some very crass sex talk in a few scenes. A character is a drug dealer and uses heroin in a vivid scene, and another character is an alcoholic. Overall the movie has a shockingly cynical worldview, but smart older teens and adults might be interested in thinking about and discussing what it has to say.

what families can talk about

  • Families can talk about Killing Them Softly's violence. How does the impact of what you see here compare to what's in horror/slasher movies? What does it mean when Pitt's character talks about killing his targets "softly"? Does he actually do that?
  • Is James Gandolfini's character an alcoholic? What makes him drink? Does he appear to be drinking for pleasure? Are there consequences for his drinking?
  • Do you agree with the main character's assessment that America is a business and not a community? Why or why not?
  • Why is the movie set in 2008? What does the story have in common with the financial collapse and the election of that year?

movie reviews from Rotten Tomatoes®

Top Critic Reviews

Rotten: While the cast is consistently watchable and on-point, Dominik disappoints as both scenarist and filmmaker.

- Alonso Duralde, TheWrap, Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fresh: It has a weird, buzzing, intense quality that has burrowed its way deep into my brain like some invasive sci-fi organism.

- Andrew O'Hehir,, Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fresh: The writer-director becomes so intent on hammering home the parallels between economic decay, political disappointments and petty criminals, there is nothing soft, or subtle, about it. He should trust his audience more.

- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times, Thursday, November 29, 2012

Audience Reviews

4 stars

So, Brad Pitt and director Andrew Dominik collaborate again after their ethereal western "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford". They now attempt a crime movie that runs over an hour less than their previous effort but in some ways feels just as drawn out. That's not to say that's it's unsuccessful. It has received criticism from many corners but personally I think expectations and preconceived ideas have led to a misunderstanding with this one. Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) are a couple of smalltime crooks for hire. They get a job to hold up a high-stakes, mafia run, card game that's overseen by middle-man Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). As Markie has openly admitted to holding up a game in the past, he becomes the obvious suspect but something doesn't quite add up. To clear up the mess, outside enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is brought in the get to the bottom of it. Films that fall into the crime genre will always have a certain level of expectation about them. It must be difficult for a director to try and establish a new format when there is a demand that they follow a particular formula. This adaptation of the George V. Higgins novel "Cogan's Trade" is exactly the type of film that has been criticised for it's lack of urgency and has suffered in it's comparison with previous genre classics. Personally, I admire Dominik's attempt at crafting something different here, and despite a glacial pace, I still found it gripping. This is a film that focuses less on action and more on talking and it's entirely understandable why some didn't appreciate it, but for me, the talking was the action and that's thanks to solid performances from everyone involved. Every actor is as good as the other and it's through their strong, and lengthy, exchanges of dialogue that each of them are able to shine; McNairy and Mendelsohn carry the weight of the first part of the story with two very different but equally unlikable low-life's; Liotta plays a perfect, desperate middle-man; Jenkins epitomises the business side of things and Gandolfini is a perfect display of regret and melancholia from a hit-man who's lost his touch. Ultimately, though, it's the reserved central performance from Pitt who commands. Arguably, he's got less to work with but his subtlety is key in expressing the coldness and stark reality of the business that these people operate in. Of course - as is now expected of Dominik - he doesn't just deliver a formulaic gangster story. Instead, he infuses it with allegory and makes a social commentary on the financial state of America. Throughout the film there are, ironic, radio and television broadcasts of political speeches and discussions about the economy and reminders of how America is the land of opportunity. It's a, less than subtle, device but one that worked quite well. On slightly closer inspection, the criminals that roam this underbelly of modern America are no less disingenuous or manipulative than the politicians in office. They just happen to be conducting their business on a lesser scale. At one point Pitt's Jackie Cogan even describes his cohorts as "Corporate mentality gangsters". That aside, this is still a crime film and as a result, it's not adverse to rolling up it's sleeves and getting it's hands dirty. There may be only sporadic moments of action but when they do appear they are brutally delivered and some of the violence displayed on-screen is wince inducing. Much like the aforementioned western collaboration between Dominik and Pitt this film dares to incorporate a sociopolitical commentary throughout it's genre. It's unconventional but very effective nonetheless and the last line of the film sums up it's theme perfectly... "America is not a country, it's just a business. Now fucking pay me."

- MrMarakai, Thursday, January 17, 2013

3 stars

Killing Them Softly is gritty, bloody, and pulpy with strong performances from a well rounded cast, but lacks the strong story to pull together all of the individual pieces that work so well by themselves. The dialogue seems pulled directly from a Tarantino movie, with characters spewing out profanities like it's their day job and talking about things that don't have anything to do with the story whatsoever, just before an unexpected act of violence happens. It's done effectively, although no one does it better than Tarantino. There's some truly horrifying violence in this film too, although one scene is operatic and truly a beautiful action sequence. In typical gangster movie fashion, many of the characters backstab each other and so on. You've seen this all done before (and better), although Killing Them Softly does have some pleasures, mainly Pitt in a quality performance exuding confidence and deadly skills as a killer for hire. If you like this sort of movie it is probably worth your time. The capitalism angle that truly rears its head during the final scenes was unnecessary, in my opinion.

- jlewis07, Wednesday, April 17, 2013

4 stars

Killing Them Softly is a very good crime film with a varied cast of talented actors. Every cast member brings something terrific to the screen, and the plot is engaging from start to finish. Andre Dominik who is a brilliant director and has crafted two stunning films before, Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, crafts this underrated film. Killing Them Softly is a film that did not deserve the flack it has received. I thought that this was a very well acted movie with many standout performances and a very story. Dominik's films are always well structured and have great, memorable characters that are well written and thought out. Killing Them Softly is a well layered movie that is engaging from the first frame onwards and manages to keep you interested due to its cast and story. The film is kind of misleading the sense that by the trailer, you'd expect an action film; well this is not that type of film. Andrew Dominik opts to create a crime drama with a few bits of humor thrown into its plot to make it stand out. This is a taut, riveting crime picture that manages to stand out among others in the genre and is brilliantly directed by a filmmaker who is always keen on creating as memorable cinematic experience. With another great film under his belt, I can't wait to see what Andrew Domink will direct next. One thing is for sure he bursts of talent, and Killing Them Softly is a surprising picture that definitely doesn't deserve the negative press it has received.

- TheDudeLebowski65, Sunday, March 24, 2013