The story begins with a minor gangster, Johnny Amata (Vincent Curatola) outlining his ‘perfect’ heist, an attack on another gangster’s card game for whom a ready-made stooge already exists to take the blame, to Frankie (Scoot McNair), a street hoodlum and very small fish. Some years before, Markie (Ray Liotta) ran a game that was turned over, and he later admitted that he’d arranged it himself. Though forgiven, it has marked him as unreliable and, were the same thing to happen again, Johnny is confident that Markie will take the rap.
Scoot recruits a fellow low-life, Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) and the heist goes according to plan, initially, though Johnny, Frankie and (especially) Russell are such losers, that a meltdown is always on the cards.
The local gang-lords bring in Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to dispense punishment to Markie and Jackie, though perfectly aware that this bears all the hallmarks of a setup, prepares to do so, bringing in an old friend, Mickey (James Gandolfini), to do the job, not wanting to get too close to Johnny, who he already knows, and unaware that Mickey is not quite the ruthless assassin he used to be…
As is the way of these things (at least in film), things don’t go to plan and there are several complications. Set against the last US election and the Wall Street crisis, an ongoing backdrop of TV news makes ironic comment about the need to provide ‘confidence’ in the market, even if the means of doing so are, ultimately, irrational, and the comparison between gangsterism and finance/politics cuts both ways. No-one comes out looking good in this movie (this is a compliment to the storytelling rather than a complaint about cinematography!) and I found it compelling from the start. A couple of fellow filmgoers seemed to judge it differently, leaving after 10 – 15 minutes, which I honestly found bewildering as we were still in the set-up phase of the film and it would be hard to see, given the general quality of writing and acting on display, what was so offensive at that point that would cause anyone to give up hope of entertainment further in.