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Killing Them Softly also known as “Cogan's Trade”

MPAA Rating: R-Rating (MPAA) for violence, sexual references, pervasive language, and some drug use.

Reviewed by: Jeremy Landes

Extremely Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Crime Comedy Drama Adaptation
1 hr. 37 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
November 30, 2012 (wide—2,000+ theaters)
DVD: March 26, 2013
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Relevant Issues
Copyright, The Weinstein Company

organized crime

assassin / mob enforcer / murderer

drug addiction


drunkenness / alcoholism


sin and the fall of man

novel: George V. Higgins’s Cogan’s Trade

Featuring: Brad PittJackie Cogan
Richard JenkinsDriver
Ray LiottaMarkie Trattman
Ben MendelsohnRussell
James GandolfiniMickey
Scoot McNairy … Frankie
Vincent Curatola … Johnny Amato
Sam Shepard … Dillon
See all »
Director: Andrew Dominik
Producer: Plan B Entertainment
1984 Private Defense Contractors
See all »
Distributor: Distributor: The Weinstein Company. Trademark logo.
The Weinstein Company

“In America you’re on your own”

“Killing Them Softly” tells a short story of crime and its consequences—mainly violent, extremely graphic death by gunshot. In most films about crime, there’s some basically good character, usually a policeman, pursuing criminals. However, in this movie, we primarily see criminals judging others’ crimes and then taking vengeance in cold, calculating ways, valuing money and reputation above all else. The film is set in Boston during America’s 2008 economic crisis, and the soundtrack is full of speeches from George W. Bush and Obama spouting rhetoric about the state of America—much of it hopeful. But the plot of the movie paints a different picture of America—one that we’re supposed to accept as reality: in our culture, it’s kill or be killed, and whoever has the most power gets the cash and glory.

Aside from one character’s ice cream treat that miraculously evaporates and reappears repeatedly each time there’s another cut to the character eating it, director Andrew Dominik has created a film with remarkable power and vivid imagery. You will feel like you’re right there getting savagely beaten by two thugs in the rain along with the character, Markie, played by Ray Liotta. The sounds of flesh and bone being torn and broken are so loud, it’s hard not to feel assaulted yourself. When Brad Pitt’s character, Jackie, is blowing people away, we watch the bullets fly in extreme slow motion, first through a window, then a hand, and finally a head while the song, “Love Letter Straight From Your Heart” plays.

The images are unforgettable—you may want to duck in your seat to avoid splatter on your clothes. I’ve given you two of many examples to describe the violence this movie is obsessed with showing in graphic detail, so you know what to expect. How would I describe the film to a friend who asked? “It’s about rat-like people mercilessly tearing one another to pieces in ugly sections of Boston.” We watch two low-level criminals rip off some other criminals, so an enforcer (Pitt) gets brought in from out of town to kill them and their boss. He encounters very few obstacles in achieving his goal.

In between these violent scenes, the characters drink, smoke, and inject drugs, while talking about sex—including bestiality. Only one woman has a speaking role in the film (its tiny), and she’s a prostitute who says very little except the F-word. Counting F-words and other profanity in the film would be pretty pointless. Suffice it to say, there are very few sentences uttered without lots of profanity.

“Killing Them Softly” references the way Jackie (Pitt) prefers to maintain distance from his victims—he doesn’t want to have a relationship with anyone he needs to kill, because the murder may become messy and complicated. But when his victims are being pushed into cold storage at the morgue, and we see their faces, it’s obvious they have been slaughtered anything but softly. I judged the film “Extremely Offensive,” not because I wanted the violence to seem more palatable, but because the filmmakers treat the murders and beatings as balletic and almost beautiful.

Author George V. Higgins, who authored the book, Cogan’s Trade, that this film is based upon, also wrote The Friends of Eddie Coyle which later became a film starring Robert Mitchum as Eddie. In that film, many people die, too—but when its assassin is shown getting away with murder (as Pitt repeatedly does in Softly), it felt like the world had turned upside down with injustice, because I cared about Mitchum’s character who had lost everything. In contrast, “Killing Them Softly” preaches that upside down (Americans only value winners and money) is the new normal, so it’s best to now live in a style that the apostle Paul summarized with legitimate scorn: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Violence: Extreme / Profanity: Extreme / Sex/Nudity: Moderate to heavy

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—This movie is by far the best crime drama since “Pulp Fiction.” If you don’t mind some brief graphic violence and a LOT of F-words, see it. Great story and acting all the way!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
Tony Josephs (USA)
Negative——Ugh! Steer clear of this dud! I was attracted to this movie by Brad Pitt and the other stars, but this clinker should have never seen the light of day! Most of the movie is about two guys who recount their sex lives in tedious explicit detail (as does Gandolfi, in his only brief appearance). The only good thing in this morally repugnant flick are the three, or so, funny jokes. This movie is a SLOW slog through painfully poor acting and may become the “poster-child” of how not to make a movie.

My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 1½

Bob G., age 56 (USA)
Negative—The movie had very graphic violence, the worst I have seen yet in a movie. At the same time, the movie moved very slowly. I left to get refills on popcorn twice, because it was so boring. I think to improve on the boredom, they put the graphic violence in and nasty sex talk. They discussed sex with animals, anal sex and the only thing women are good for is prostitution. This movie is a political commentary, so if you are expecting a gangster movie with great actors, you will be disappointed.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Fred L, age 50 (USA)
Negative—I had this film in my Netflix lineup and received it yesterday. I had put it there for the same reasons others noted—the star lineup, etc. Put it into the player last night, and was immediately embarrassed at the words coming out of my TV and my room in my home where I live with roommates! Tried turning it down…, but it was no use. I must have heard the F-word 50 times in the first ten minutes if I heard it once! It wasn’t just sprinkled. It was overwhelmingly pervasive!

I tried to watch it a bit more, really I did, thinking—well this might get better and this might not continue like this. But it just went from bad to worse. I found myself on my computer pulling up YouTube gospel songs with the movie on pause. The music was like Saul asking for David to play for him to sooth his troubled soul.

Next thing I found myself pulling the movie out of the player, tossing it into the Netflix envelope, sealing it up, and running it up to the mailbox in my community at midnight just to get the thing out of my house!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
Marilyn, age 74 (USA)

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