That buzzing sound you hear in the background, the one that takes up nearly every available second of soundtrack that isn't already populated by the wisecracks of this or that gun-packing scofflaw, is the sound of 2008's financial meltdown. Wall Street types and George W. Bush and news reports and the Obama campaign all weigh in on endless TV reports about the sinking of the American economy as an underworld operetta about crime and punishment plays out amidst point-of-impact violence (none of these guys chill with repeats of Friends in between killings or shaking down people for protection cash; they're all very concerned with the news cycle). And that clanking noise accompanying the buzzing sound is the film hitting you over the head with its heavy message again and again and again. Here it is: the government and the financial sector is a brutal business full of criminals just like the mob and the mob has turned corporate and we're all doomed and you're all on your own and you might as well let James Gandolfini shoot you in the face.
Picking up the beat of a story already told pretty effectively and very specifically in Takeshi Kitano's 2010 film Outrage, and harnessing the two-decades-long narrative churned up by Reservoir Dogs, writer-director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) adapts George V. Higgins' novel Cogan's Trade and goes for it, heavy ham fists flailing away until everyone, the witty and the dull, are dead or just wish they were.
Johnny (Vincent Curatola, "Johnny Sack" from The Sopranos) sends in Frankie (Scoot McNairy, Argo) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn, Animal Kingdom) to knock over a poker game run by Markie (Ray Liotta). Johnny does this because Markie's an easy target after casually confessing to already having robbed his own game once before. Perception being everything and robbery being no respecter of persons, Markie has to be punished even though he's "innocent." In comes Jackie (Brad Pitt), an enforcer who hires Mickey (Gandolfini) to deal with Markie. Mickey may not be the right man for the job, but he sure gives good dialogue.
It's that dialogue (filthy and funny) and the cinematic pleasure of watching bad guys slash, shoot and explode one another that almost provides the ballast necessary to drown out the droning obvious point-making. You find yourself wishing it were simply a film about greedy agreements and mouthy disagreements among dishonorable men as they negotiate their own survival and attempt to restore a baseline level of delusional faith in illegal card games. But until that movie comes along you may just decide to take what you can get.