Killing Them Softly

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Killing Them Softly
Killing Them Softly poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAndrew Dominik
Screenplay byAndrew Dominik
Based onCogan's Trade
by George V. Higgins
Produced by
CinematographyGreig Fraser
Edited byBrian A. Kates
John Paul Horstmann
Music byMarc Streitenfeld
Distributed byThe Weinstein Company (North America)
Inferno Distribution (International)[1]
Release dates
  • May 22, 2012 (2012-05-22) (Cannes)
  • November 30, 2012 (2012-11-30) (United States)
Running time
97 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$15 million[3][4]
Box office$37.9 million[4]

Killing Them Softly is a 2012 American neo-noir crime film written and directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt, based on George V. Higgins' novel Cogan's Trade (1974). The film is about three small-time crooks who rob a Mob-protected illegal gambling operation, which prompts the Mob to send in two hitmen, Jackie (Pitt) and Mickey (James Gandolfini), to deal with the perpetrators.

On May 22, 2012, the film premiered in competition for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and received positive early reviews.[5][6] The film was released on November 30, 2012, by The Weinstein Company and received generally positive reviews, with many praising Pitt's and Gandolfini's performances as well as Dominik's directing-writing and the humor.

The film grossed $37.9 million against a budget of $15 million.


During the American financial crisis and presidential election campaign in the autumn fall of 2008, Johnny "Squirrel" Amato plans to rob a Mafia poker game. He enlists Frankie, a former business associate, and Russell, a heroin-addicted Australian expatriate who is stealing purebred dogs for money. They decide to target a game run by Markie Trattman, who is known to have previously orchestrated an inside job by paying two men to rob his own illegal poker game. Squirrel anticipates that Markie will be the obvious suspect because of this, and the Mafia will simply have him killed without investigating further.

Frankie and Russell, although obviously amateurs, do the holdup and leave with the money. Afterwards, a mafioso named Driver hires hitman Jackie Cogan to deal with the situation. Although Jackie correctly intuits that Markie was uninvolved with the recent heist, he believes Markie still needs to die since he looks guilty, and an example needs to be made to discourage further robberies, but not without arranging for Markie to suffer a beating by mobsters Steve and Barry.

Upon completing the crime, Russell travels to Florida to sell the dogs. While in Florida, he inadvertently informs a man named Kenny Gill of his involvement in the heist while trying to recruit him as a drug dealer. Kenny informs Jackie, who deduces that Russell, Frankie, and Squirrel were the perpetrators.

Jackie carries out the hit on Markie himself but brings in another hitman named Mickey Fallon, who is on parole in New York, to kill Squirrel. Jackie explains to Driver how he prefers "killing them softly"—shooting his victims from a distance, without warning, giving them no opportunity to experience fear or despair—and that his acquaintance with Squirrel risks complicating this approach.

Mickey postpones going through with his assigned hit, and instead indulges in drunkenness and sex with prostitutes in a hotel room. During conversation with Jackie, Mickey reveals that he has violated his parole, and doesn't seem to either care about nor really comprehend the consequences; instead he goes off on drunken tangents. It becomes clear to Jackie that the respected hitman has lost his nerve and ability to do his job. Jackie eventually decides to carry out the hit on Squirrel himself. He convinces Driver to arrange Mickey's arrest before the job has been completed.

Russell is arrested on a drug possession charge and deported; meanwhile, Jackie confronts Frankie and convinces him to trade Squirrel's whereabouts for his life. Jackie has Frankie drive him to Squirrel; upon reaching Squirrel's apartment complex, he kills Squirrel with a shotgun. After confirming Squirrel is dead, Jackie has Frankie drive him to get his car several hours away. Frankie becomes very nervous and begins speeding. Unable to get Frankie to slow down, Jackie takes over driving. Once they arrive at the parking garage, Jackie shoots Frankie in the head without warning. Jackie then wipes down any fingerprints he might have left and leaves the scene.

On the night of the presidential election, Jackie meets with Driver to collect his fee for the three hits. On the TV in the bar, Barack Obama is giving his election victory speech. The two argue over his fee, with Driver trying to pay a lesser amount and Jackie insisting on the full sum. Referring to Obama's speech, Jackie angrily declares: "This guy wants to tell me we're living in a community? Don't make me laugh. I'm living in America, and in America, you're on your own. America is not a country; it's just a business. Now fucking pay me."



Killing Them Softly is based on the 1974 novel Cogan's Trade by George V. Higgins, a best selling crime novelist whose works include The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Cogan's Trade, like Higgins' other novels, takes place in Boston; although filmed in the New Orleans area, characters in Killing Them Softly make several references to Boston area suburbs from the original novel. The film was written and directed by Andrew Dominik, who chose to update the setting of the story, saying "as I started adapting it, it was the story of an economic crisis, and it was an economic crisis in an economy that was funded by gambling—and the crisis occurred due to a failure in regulation. It just seemed to have something that you couldn't ignore."[7]

The project was first announced in November 2010, when Brad Pitt was reported to be in talks to star in it.[8] Dominik asked Pitt if he was interested in a role via a text message; he replied "yes" and the matter was settled over half an hour.[9] Pitt previously co-starred in Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). Production was scheduled to begin in Louisiana in March 2011, with pre-production beginning in January.[10][11] Additional roles were cast in early 2011.[12][13][14]

According to Garret Dillahunt, the film's first cut was two-and-a-half hours long. Dillahunt, who had a cameo in the film, did not make the final cut for the theatrical release.[15]

The music in the film is primarily taken from pop, rock and R&B songs from many artists and decades. One original song, "The Feeling in My Nuts", was written for the film by Marc Streitenfeld, who also composed and performed the atmospheric film score music on piano. AllMusic said that the collection of songs matched the film's "idiosyncratic nature" – that of a failed heist.[16] Rachel Fox supervised the song implementation.[17] A soundtrack album was sold containing most of the songs heard in the film, and substituting some instrumental versions which were not heard. The song "Windmills of Your Mind", sung by Petula Clark, was in the film but not included on the soundtrack album.[18]


Killing Them Softly was scheduled to premiere on September 21, 2012; however, the US release date was delayed until November 30, 2012, to avoid competing with The Master and to improve its chances for award nominations.[19] The film kept its original release date in other parts of the world, with the somewhat unusual result that it opened in the UK and India more than two months before the US opening.

The Weinstein Company distributed the film in the United States and Canada.

Home media[edit]

The film was released on Blu-ray & DVD March 26, 2013. The film was released in Australia earlier, on February 13,[20] and on February 25 in the UK.[21]


Box office[edit]

In its opening weekend, Killing Them Softly grossed $6.8 million. The film made $15 million domestically and $22.9 million internationally for a worldwide total of $37.9 million.[22]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 74% based on 233 reviews, with an average rating of 6.90/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Killing Them Softly is a darkly comic, visceral thriller that doubles as a cautionary tale on capitalism, whose message is delivered with sledgehammer force."[23] On Metacritic, the film received a weighted average score of 64 out of 100, based on 42 critics indicating "generally favorable reviews".[24] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare grade of "F" on an A+ to F scale;[25] as of April 2021, it is one of only 22 films to receive such a rating.[26]

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave Killing them Softly 5 stars, saying the film is a "compelling comment on economic bloodletting in the real world".[27] Tim Robey of The Daily Telegraph gave the film 4 stars describing it as "bleakly electrifying".[28] Total Film awarded it 3 stars calling it "tough, stylish, violent and studded with stars" but countered that it "doesn’t quite get the job done".[29]


Award Category Recipients Result
65th Cannes Film Festival[30] Palme d'Or Andrew Dominik Nominated


  1. ^ Adams, Mark (May 22, 2012). "Killing Them Softly". Screen Daily. Retrieved August 11, 2021.
  2. ^ "Title « British Board of Film Classification". British Board of Film Classification. August 28, 2012. Retrieved September 18, 2012.
  3. ^ Kaufman, Amy (November 29, 2012). "Brad Pitt's 'Killing Them Softly' poised for soft box office debut". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 11, 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Killing Them Softly (2012)". Box Office Mojo. February 10, 2013. Retrieved March 11, 2013.
  5. ^ "2012 Official Selection". Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved April 19, 2012.
  6. ^ "Andrew Dominik, a certain vision of capitalism". Cannes Film Festival. May 22, 2012. Retrieved May 22, 2012.
  7. ^ Wright, Benjamin (May 23, 2012). "Cannes: 'Killing Them Softly' Helmer Andrew Dominik Talks Music As Film: 'Jesse James' Was My Leonard Cohen Song, 'Killing Them Softly' Is A Pop Tune". The Playlist. Archived from the original on January 12, 2013. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  8. ^ McNary, Dave (November 2, 2010). "Brad Pitt in talks for 'Cogan's Trade'". Variety.
  9. ^ Vilkommerson, Sara (September 3, 2012). "Fall Movies We Can't Wait To See – Killing Them Softly (Oct. 19)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved September 4, 2012.
  10. ^ McNary, Dave (December 30, 2010). "Brad Pitt to star in 'Cogan's Trade'". Variety.
  11. ^ Scott, Mike (January 3, 2011). "Brad Pitt to return to New Orleans for thriller 'Cogan's Trade'". The Times-Picayune.
  12. ^ McNary, Dave (January 5, 2011). "Sam Rockwell circles 'Cogan's Trade'". Variety.
  13. ^ Sneider, Jeff (February 8, 2011). "Richard Jenkins joins Pitt starrer 'Cogan's Trade'". Variety.
  14. ^ Sneider, Jeff (February 16, 2011). "McNairy, Mendelsohn to star in 'Cogan's Trade'". Variety.
  15. ^ Jagernauth, Kevin (April 15, 2012). "Garret Dillahunt Says First Cut Of 'Killing Them Softly' Was 2.5 Hours, Not Sure If He Made The Final Edit". The Playlist. Archived from the original on June 29, 2012. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  16. ^ "Killing Them Softly [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] - Original Soundtrack | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic" – via
  17. ^ "Killing Them Softly (2012) - Andrew Dominik | Cast and Crew | AllMovie" – via
  18. ^ Jagernauth, Kevin (September 21, 2012). "'Killing Them Softly' Soundtrack Features The Velvet Underground, Nico & More".
  19. ^ "Killing Them Softly New Release Date". Film School Rejects. Archived from the original on September 15, 2012. Retrieved September 18, 2012.
  20. ^ "Killing Them Softly". EzyDVD. Archived from the original on February 17, 2013. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
  21. ^ "Killing Them Softly [DVD]: Film & TV". Retrieved February 12, 2013.
  22. ^ "Killing Them Softly (2012)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 10, 2017.
  23. ^ "Killing Them Softly". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved May 21, 2022.
  24. ^ "Killing Them Softly". Metacritic. CBS. Retrieved September 21, 2012.
  25. ^ "CinemaScore Flunkees: Brad Pitt's 'Killing Them Softly' and 7 Other Movies That Earned an F With Audiences". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 10, 2017.
  26. ^ Dowd, A. A.; Rife, Katie (April 3, 2020). "Is an "F" from CinemaScore Actually a Good Thing? Our Critics Weigh In". The A.V. Club. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  27. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (September 20, 2012). "Killing Them Softly – review". The Guardian. Retrieved April 3, 2013.
  28. ^ Robey, Tim (September 20, 2012). "Killing Them Softly, review". The Telegraph. Retrieved April 3, 2013.
  29. ^ Crocker, Johnathon (September 21, 2012). "Killing Them Softly review". Total Film. Retrieved April 3, 2013.
  30. ^ "Cannes Film Festival 2012 line-up announced". Timeout. Retrieved September 21, 2012.

External links[edit]