Speakeasy – November 23, 2012


On its surface, Andrew Dominik’s new film “Killing Them Softly” is about a group of thugs—played by Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta—jockeying for position in a gritty and purposely ambiguous Anytown, U.S.A. But the movie, based on a 1974 crime novel by George V. Higgins, also offers an unexpected commentary on the global financial collapse.

In the background of many scenes, George W. Bush and Barack Obama are on TVs and on the radio, speechifying to restore faith in the economy. The malfunctioning mob-protected card game at the center of the film’s plot is intended to be viewed as a metaphor for the market failure of 2008. And none of the film’s shady characters can expect a bailout.

“We’re all on our own,” said Brad Pitt, the film’s star and producer. His character Jackie Cogan’s mantra: “If you don’t play by the rules, you get crushed.”

Pitt and Dominik collaborated on 2007’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” a commercial flop that brought in less than $4 million domestically, despite positive reviews. Pitt says that he’s curious to see whether the new film, slated for release on Nov. 30, will resonate with audience members still buzzing from the presidential election.

“Faith has been restored in some way. ‘Lincoln’ is coming out. There’s a love of democracy and the democratic process,”said Mr. Pitt in a recent phone conversation from France, after a day of shooting the summer zombie thriller “World War Z” in the U.K.” Excerpts:

Andrew Dominik said it took 45 minutes via text message to hammer out a deal with you to produce this film.

Yeah, it’s my avoidance of long and lengthy contractual processes. I try to avoid that at all costs and keep it simple. Andrew’s become an old friend. I am a big believer in his work. And he pulled out this old crime novel, like he did for “Jesse,” and had this take on America, which I thought was interesting, especially with him being Australian and an outsider.

Were you familiar with the book?

Not this one. I was familiar with “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” [which was made into a 1973 movie starring Robert Mitchum.]

There’s a line you say in this movie, ‘I’m livin’ in America, and in America, you’re on your own,’ which I think crystallizes the whole theme of the movie.

My feeling is that the Jackie Cogan character has a very dim worldview of America. It’s not that he’s judging it in any way it as right or wrong. In fact he was quite ambivalent to it all. He’s like “These are the rules and if you don’t play by the rules you get crushed.”

Your character is the only semi-likeable person in this whole movie—he reminded me of Omar Little in ‘The Wire,’ a criminal, but at least he operated by a code.

I am not that well-versed in “The Wire,” but he certainly had his own code. And you realize you are talking about an assassin?


I garner great pleasure from that. Cogan has a healthy understanding of what it’s going to take to respond. He keeps the machine rolling.

“Jesse James” wasn’t exactly a hit at the box office. Do you think this movie will have broader commercial

I always felt that [“Jesse”] was a fine wine kind of film, and it would find it’s time and place as it aged. I was not concerned as much as I should be, having been responsible for some of the money. As far as the quality of the film I felt everyone was quite proud to be a part of it. On this one, I don’t know. I am very curious. When Andrew wrote this it was two years ago, and now we’re out in the next phase.

Do you think the film might be too cynical for the current environment?

The film is saying that image is part of it. It’s not about who’s at fault but who is perceived to be involved? Who is the one who can fix it? It’s a bold statement in the film one I think is true, that marketing is everything.

When you read the script, did you see Jim Gandolfini in the character of Mickey, the boozing and whoring hit man you hire to do your character’s dirty work?

I am laughing because he’s one of my favorites. No I didn’t see it, at least not after the first read. It’s after the second read you start thinking about who will pay who. Jimmy’s name came up right away. I met him doing a cameo in “True Romance” [Tony Scott’s 1993 crime thriller] first. I quickly recognized that this guy has got talent.

Had you run into him between then and now?

It’s a migratory business, and we were often drawn to the same type of work. We worked together again in “The Mexican.”

He said that for a long time he didn’t want to do the role. Did you help convince him?

No, it was all Andrew. What we want is a director with a strong point of view. We need a strong voice. All that hard work is going to get muddy if you don’t have that at the helm. Andrew is all of that and more. As far as character development, he understands psychology and inner motivation more than most directors I’ve come across. It’s his specialty. He’s thought through all the characters, no matter how off the charts crazy they may be.

Didn’t he say that you were the ego and Gandolfini was the id?

Yes. He did. I thought it was a really interesting take. I had no idea.

It was funny to see Gandolfini in a bathrobe again in that hotel room scene.

He does do it well. He really does.

Was that some kind of homage to Tony Soprano?

Not that I’m aware of in any way, but maybe you’d have to ask Jim. Maybe there’s some path [Tony] could have taken to end up like this.

Did you help pick the music—I love that Johnny Cash song, ‘When the Man Comes Around’ that’s playing when your character drives into the picture.

Pretty much all the music you hear in this film was written in the screenplay.

Anything else you wanted to add?

Hell no!