‘Killing Them Softly’ writer-director Andrew Dominik on Brad Pitt, President Obama, and the dirty job of killing for hire
Photo: The Weinstein Co
With "Killing Them Softly," writer-director Andrew Dominik reunites with Brad Pitt, the star of his ambitious 2007 Western, "The Killing of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," a box office failure with a running time as long as its title. Dominik's first film, the 2000 Australian crime biopic "Chopper," launched Eric Bana's Hollywood career. Now the New Zealand-born director is back with a taut crime drama based on the George V. Higgins novel "Cogan's Trade." Pitt plays Jackie Cogan, a mob enforcer assigned to clean up after a pair of bumbling amateurs (Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn) rob a Mafia-protected card game and sign their own death warrant in poker chips. Dominik opens up on Pitt, politics, and killing:
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Thelma Adams: The late author George V. Higgins is having a renaissance. His books tend to be dialogue-driven, male, low-rent crime stories. While in many ways the adaptation remains faithful to the book's spirit, you transplant the story from Massachusetts in the '70s to Louisiana in 2008. The overlay of contemporary politics and the 2008 election battle between Barack Obama and John McCain gives rise to Cogan looking at Obama on TV in a bar and saying, "This guy wants to tell me we're living in a community? Don't make me laugh. I'm living in America, and in America you're on your own. America's not a country. It's just a business." Why this particular radical departure?
Andrew Dominik: When I read "Cogan's Trade," it seemed like everyone had an aria but Jackie. Obviously, I had to come up with some aria for him. The book was the story of an economic crisis. I was in the middle of the global one at the time, and I saw a way to fit the two together. The story of the poker-game heist is about an economy supported by gambling and its collapse. When the underworld deals with it, they have to deal with the problem and with the perception of the problem. They have to get rid of the guys who collapsed the economy -- it's a political situation that was exactly what happened in the financial meltdown of 2008. Crime movies are basically about capitalism because it's the genre where everybody is making a buck. Aren't they about the American dream, getting rich quick, which is the promise of America?
TA: In the movie, you show two very similar billboards of McCain and Obama, and it seems that the movie is equating the two, that they are two sides of the same coin. Was that your intent?
AD: I think so. In America, to get elected costs money, and money comes from interested parties. You're always going to have to deal with people who put money in your pocket.
Photo: The Weinstein Co.
Photo: The Weinstein Co.
AD: I see the movie as a political cartoon. It's not a subtle film. It's like a protest song. And a lot of people haven't liked that and have seen it as ham-fisted. But at the time, when you're suffering financial insecurity, it's the only thing. We were on the brink of the ATM not dispensing cash. Every time you listened to the car radio, people were arguing about the bailout. If you were going to set this story at any time, that seems like the ideal. The idea was to play it for laughs and make it universal.