Mystery is star quality for mob hit man Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt). He's both inside the syndicate and above it, saying, "Very few guys know me." Angels of death do not socialize. A smart, supercool enforcer of gangland and corporate priorities, Cogan is the criminal-industrial complex's Terminator, but he's not in charge; he takes orders from the taciturn lawyer (Richard Jenkins) who represents various Messrs. Big. Cogan is the underworld equivalent of a midlevel Wall Street sharpie, doing the dirty work for master manipulators.
Killing Them Softly, an adaptation of George V. Higgins' 1974 crime novel Cogan's Trade, reunites Pitt with writer-director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). Dominik pointedly updates the Higgins story to the crisis moment of September 2008 and hammers home the notion that Wall Street takes down more victims than organized crime. "America's not a country," Cogan says. "It's a business. Now f---in' pay me."
The movie is sharpest in defining, with relish and ketchup, the impact and etiquette of criminal brutality. But the main reward for your attention is Pitt in another effortless star performance. Following his triumphs in 2011's The Tree of Life and Moneyball, he shows again how to elevate a film with skill, charisma and no sweat. In this rancid milieu, he comes out smelling like Chanel No. 5. (In theaters Nov. 30)