When NZ-born, Oz-bred director Andrew Dominik last got Brad Pitt in his sights, the result was 2007's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, the best Western in years.
Maybe some thought the title gave away the ending. But even Pitt, a man so marketable he now flogs perfume, couldn't attract anyone to go see it.
So on their second collaboration, Dominik and Pitt have gone back to what they know.
For the director, that's the seamy underworld he created in his Australian debut Chopper. For Pitt, it's another role in which he exudes several buckets of that cool, smart menace which has become as much his screen trademark as his early prettiness.
He's here as mob enforcer Jackie Cogan, the character coming from Cogan's Trade, a 1974 crime novel by George V. Higgins, on which Dominik loosely based his script, now updated to the time of the 2008 Bush-Obama handover and the snowballing GFC.
While Pitt is terrific as the go-between guy dealing with the streets and higher management - represented by Richard Jenkins' lawyer, their clandestine business meetings among the most riveting scenes - it takes an age to make his presence felt as this jumbled saga juggles its half dozen main characters and subplots.
It does that while stripping any glamour out of gangland USA and trying to say something profound about the state of the union. Cue juxtaposing the milieu's grim reality with the President-elect's proclamations of "hope" coming through the airwaves.
As a crime thriller, it has its moments, especially when its pettiest crooks rob a card game in a hilariously tense scene. And its pitch-black humour extends to lessons in how not to torch a car and showing the best way to take a beating (hint: Don't aim any resulting bodily fluids at your assailant's shoes).
Killing Them Softly might paint a vivid picture of America's rotten underbelly getting even more rancid in straitened economic times. But it's often a clunky listless film carried by the performances and the bleak atmosphere it creates around them.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Richard Jenkins
Director: Andrew Dominik
Running time: 97 mins
Verdict: Mildly diverting mob thriller with social commentary