Killing Them Softly

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Not to be confused with the 2002 erotic thriller Killing Me Softly (film).
Killing Them Softly
Killing Them Softly poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Andrew Dominik
Produced by
Screenplay by Andrew Dominik
Based on Cogan's Trade 
by George V. Higgins
Music by Jonathan Elia & David Wittman
Cinematography Greig Fraser
Edited by Brian A. Kates
John Paul Horstmann
Annapurna Pictures
1984 Private Defense Contractors
Plan B Entertainment
Chockstone Pictures
Distributed by The Weinstein Company
Release dates
  • May 22, 2012 (2012-05-22) (Cannes)
  • November 30, 2012 (2012-11-30) (United States)
Running time
97 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $15 million[2][3]
Box office $37.9 million[3]

Killing Them Softly is a 2012 American neo-noir crime film directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt, based on the 1974 novel Cogan's Trade by George V. Higgins. On May 22, 2012, the film premiered in competition for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, receiving positive early reviews.[4][5]


In the fall of 2008, during both the American financial crisis and the presidential election campaign, a man named Johnny "Squirrel" Amato (Vincent Curatola) plans to rob an illegitimate poker game. He enlists Frankie (Scoot McNairy), a former business associate, and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), a heroin-addicted Australian expatriate who is stealing purebred dogs for money, to perform the robbery. Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), the proprietor of a poker ring, is revealed to have previously orchestrated an inside job by paying two men to rob his own illegal poker room. He holds up under rough questioning by the hitman Dillon (Sam Shepard), though later he openly admits his involvement to various criminal figures and suffers no retaliation. Squirrel anticipates that the Mafia will automatically blame Markie for the heist.

Frankie and Russell, though obviously amateurs to the task, complete the holdup with no problems and leave with the money. However, Driver (Richard Jenkins), an emissary for the Mafia, discusses the recent robbery with an acquaintance of Dillon, a hitman named Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt). Although Jackie understands Markie was uninvolved in the heist, he believes Markie should be murdered in order to restore the mobsters' confidence in the local gambling scene.

Upon completing the crime, Russell travels to Florida to sell the dogs. While in Florida, he inadvertently informs a man named Kenny Gill (Slaine) of his involvement in the heist while trying to recruit him as a dealer. Kenny informs Jackie, who implicates Russell, Frankie, and Squirrel as the true perpetrators. All of this occurs during a backdrop of televised speeches given by then-President George W. Bush and then-Senator Barack Obama made during the 2008 US Presidential election.

Jackie carries out the hit on Markie himself, killing him in his car, but brings in another hitman, Mickey Fallon (James Gandolfini), 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 jobs, instead indulging in alcohol and prostitutes in a hotel room. During conversation with Jackie, Mickey also reveals that he has violated his parole, and doesn't seem to care about or really comprehend the consequences, instead going on unrelated 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 ostensibly 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, so Jackie convinces Frankie to let him drive. Once they arrive at the parking garage, Frankie is killed by Jackie. 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. Jackie alleges that at $10,000 each, Driver has underpaid him for the jobs—on the argument that it would have cost $15,000 to have Mickey kill Squirrel. Driver responds that Dillon charges ten, and tells Jackie to take it up with Dillon. Jackie tells Driver that Dillon died that morning. Referring to Obama's speech, Jackie says angrily, "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."[6] The film smash-cuts to black, leaving the issue unresolved.



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's other novels, takes place in Boston; although filmed in 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 for the lead role.[8] Pitt joined the project the following month, and production was scheduled to begin in Louisiana in March 2011.[9] Additional roles were cast in early 2011.[10][11][12] Dominik asked Pitt if he was interested in the role via a text message; he replied "yes" and the matter was settled over half an hour.[13]

Pre-production began in Louisiana in January 2011,[14] and filming was underway by March 2011.[15]

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.[16]


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.[17] The film kept its original release date in other parts of the world, with the somewhat unusual result where 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 March 26, 2013. The film was released in Australia earlier, on February 13,[18] and on February 25 in the UK.[19]


Box office[edit]

In its opening weekend, Killing Them Softly grossed a domestic total of $6,812,900. The film made $15,026,056 domestically and $22,904,409 internationally for a worldwide total of $37,930,465.[20]

Critical response[edit]

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 75% based on reviews from 212 critics, with an average rating of 6.8 out of 10. The site' 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."[21] At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score, the film received an average score of 64 out of 100, based on 42 critics. indicating "generally favorable reviews".[22] On CinemaScore audience gave the film an average grade of "F" on an A+ to F scale, one of only eight films to ever earn the grade.[23]

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave the film 5 stars saying the film is a "compelling comment on economic bloodletting in the real world".[24] Tim Robey of The Daily Telegraph gave the film 4 stars describing it as "bleakly electrifying".[25] 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".[26]


Award Category Recipients and nominees Outcome
65th Cannes Film Festival[27] Palme d'Or Andrew Dominik Nominated


  1. ^ "Title « British Board of Film Classification". British Board of Film Classification. August 28, 2012. Retrieved September 18, 2012. 
  2. ^ Kaufman, Amy (November 29, 2012). "Brad Pitt's 'Killing Them Softly' poised for soft box office debut". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 11, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "Killing Them Softly (2012)". Box Office Mojo. February 10, 2013. Retrieved March 11, 2013. 
  4. ^ "2012 Official Selection". Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved April 19, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Andrew Dominik, a certain vision of capitalism". Cannes Film Festival. May 22, 2012. Retrieved May 22, 2012. 
  6. ^ Asawin Suebsaeng (November 30, 2012). ""Killing Them Softly": A Hitman Movie That's Actually About the Financial Crash". Mother Jones. 
  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. Retrieved September 10, 2012. 
  8. ^ McNary, Dave (November 2, 2010). "Brad Pitt in talks for 'Cogan's Trade'". Variety. 
  9. ^ McNary, Dave (December 30, 2010). "Brad Pitt to star in 'Cogan's Trade'". Variety. 
  10. ^ McNary, Dave (January 5, 2011). "Sam Rockwell circles 'Cogan's Trade'". Variety. 
  11. ^ Sneider, Jeff (February 8, 2011). "Richard Jenkins joins Pitt starrer 'Cogan's Trade'". Variety. 
  12. ^ Sneider, Jeff (February 16, 2011). "McNairy, Mendelsohn to star in 'Cogan's Trade'". Variety. 
  13. ^ Vilkommerson, Sara (September 3, 2012). "Fall Movies We Can't Wait To See – Killing Them Softly (Oct. 19)". Entertainment Weekly. Time Inc. Retrieved September 4, 2012. 
  14. ^ Scott, Mike (January 3, 2011). "Brad Pitt to return to New Orleans for thriller 'Cogan's Trade'". The Times-Picayune. 
  15. ^ "Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and family hit the French Quarter streets". The Times-Picayune. March 21, 2011. 
  16. ^ 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. Retrieved August 13, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Killing Them Softly New Release Date". Film School Rejects. Retrieved 2012-09-18. 
  18. ^ "Killing Them Softly". EzyDVD. Retrieved February 12, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Killing Them Softly [DVD]: Film & TV". Retrieved February 12, 2013. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ "Killing Them Softly". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved August 19, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Killing Them Softly". Metacritic. CBS. Retrieved September 21, 2012. 
  23. ^
  24. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (September 20, 2012). "Killing Them Softly – review". The Guardian. Retrieved April 3, 2013. 
  25. ^ Robey, Tim (September 20, 2012). "Killing Them Softly, review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 3 April 2013. 
  26. ^ Crocker, Johnathon (September 21, 2012). "Killing Them Softly review". Total Film. Retrieved April 3, 2013. 
  27. ^ "Cannes Film Festival 2012 line-up announced". Timeout. Retrieved September 21, 2012. 

External links[edit]