We can blame it on RESERVOIR DOGS, I think, the spate of self-aware indie gangster movies with glib, pop culture savvy criminals double- and triple-crossing each other in a comfortably shady milieu. These things are as thick on the ground as low-budget zombie movies, all trying to capture the same lightning that Tarantino did with his startling (and, it should be said, still effective) debut. But the problem with all of these fan-made films is that they're too mired in other movies - set in a world made up of established types rather than people, all of these gangster movies fail to ultimately be about anything more substantive than other gangster movies.
Andrew Dominik is just as aware of these formulae as we are, and his gangland opus KILLING THEM SOFTLY, from a novel by THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE scribe George Higgins, is a bracing change of pace. It's by no means a perfect film; though of course all films should be About Something, Domink's sledgehammer insistence on underscoring the economic desperation of his milieu in every scene is somewhat tiresome (every dive bar in Boston seems to have their TV tuned to CNN). And yet Dominik's not above juicing his action with forays into high style: the ironic juxtaposition of a romantic ballad with an extreme-slo-mo gangland execution, pretty as it is, is nothing we haven't seen before. (The scoring of a drug trip scene with the Velvet Underground's "Heroin" is a particularly lazy choice.)
In the end these are quibbles. For all of the film's strident symbolism, Domink's characters all live in something recognizably close to our world. They deal with tangible concerns, their dialogue refreshingly real with a noticeable and welcome absence of cod-Tarantino glibness. Some of our finest characters actors (many of whom I suspect worked for scale simply to be involved) step up to the plate and run with the fine, literary dialogue. And its glorious final scene, in which the nigh-unstoppable, status-quo-enforcing hitman played by Brad Pitt is finally rendered vulnerable (in lovely counterpoint to the message of solidarity and hope that's been blaring from all screens everywhere) is a perfect capper.