In this darkly comic crime thriller, a couple of drug-addled low-lifes rob a mob-protected poker game and enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is sent to track them down. In cinemas October 18.
It may not sound like much on paper, but Andrew (Chopper) Dominik's ugly-beautiful crime drama is an embarrassment of cine-riches. The gangland revenge plot is familiar. The outcome a foregone conclusion. But somehow the resulting film – gritty, tense, funny, moving – is one of the best, and saddest, of the year.
Set in a devastated America, with the white-noise of TV recession chatter swamping the soundtrack, and post-Katrina New Orleans providing a rain-soaked backdrop, the film introduces low-lives Scoot McNairy (Monsters) and Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom) as they rob Ray Liotta's backroom card game. It's a suicidal plan that brings Brad Pitt's super-efficient fixer, Richard Jenkins world-weary administrator and James Gandolfini's alcoholic hitman down on their heads.
It's a terrific cast, with particular kudos going to McNairy – pinched, whiny, totally out of his depth; Mendelsohn, who's perfected a distressing combination of pathetic and terrifying; and a career-best Gandolfini, who switches from sympathetic to repulsive between martinis. Pitt, meanwhile, plays his super-cool pointman like Tyler Durden grown older and even more disillusioned. “How badly do you want him beaten?” he asks Jenkins disinterestedly. The near-unwatchable scene that follows answers the question with blood, tears and vomit.
Although Dominik punctures the grubbiness with bitter laughs and sequences of heart-in-mouth beauty – bullets sweeping balletically through fracturing glass, Mendelsohn slipping into smacked-out oblivion – he knows these people are inching ever closer to damnation. “This country is fucked. There's a plague coming,” says Pitt. How long, Dominik seems to be asking, before it comes for us too?