When asked if the film’s message might go over some people’s heads, Andrew Dominik, the writer/director of Killing Them Softly, simply asked: “It’s pretty fucking obvious, isn’t it?” To be sure, Killing Them Softly does not pull its punches. It’s a film infused with a clear political tilt, complimented by highly-stylized, violence palette.
High up in the Carlton Hotel, over-looking the Mediterranean, the filmmaker explained that he was looking for a crime story, and found the George V. Higgins novel Cogan’s Trade: “…the crime story that I found was about an economic crisis. It had a lot of parallels to what was going on around me, so that’s how it happened.”
Along with incorporating a political message into what is essentially a genre flick, there is Dominik’s now-trademark visual style, accented to much praise in his last film, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. How did a cerebral western with long, picaresque photography lead into this?
“You know, I wanted to make a cynical movie, and you look at Billy Wilder movies, and basically I was thinking of it like an assembly line movie from the ‘40s. I wanted to try and do it like that, so, you know, simple. The visuals of movies, it’s not something I… I mean, I think about it but it’s not so important to me.”
And though the words feel surprising coming from such a visual artist, he went on to explain that it is all about serving the ultimate story, using one particular scene in which Ben Mendelsohn‘s thug is riding a drug high as an example: “Some of [the scene] we kind of made up. It was really strange to shoot it, you know, because we had the camera on the dolly track and we just shot it. And I was just queuing everything, so I could cue the lights and I could talk to him, run through the dialogue. It was really weird. We’re just kind of creating the feeling.”
The same can be said for the decision to shoot the film in New Orleans:”…it’s a story of economic collapse, so you want to go where the economy’s collapsed. And they also give you cash-back.” Dominik spoke to the practicalities inherent in any and every production, a point that’s often glossed over when studying the intentions of a film. When asked about the retro feel of the film – Pitt’s greasy, slicked back hair and worn leather jacket, the muscle car he drives – Dominik dismissed it: “I just like muscle cards…but, you know, a lot of scenes in movies are very pragmatic. You pick the cars based on which cars you can double.”
This kind of adherence to money, of course, speaks to what Killing Them Softly is preaching about: “I chose to do it during the [2008 Economic] Crisis, which happened during the election…But the other thing is the whole election [between Barack Obama and John McCain] is about this idea of togetherness. It’s about the idea of community. That’s what the election was about. It was about ‘we are going to heal the divide’ and ‘we’re one people’ and all that sort of shit. It was in opposition to the American economic ideal, which means the freedom to compete for money. And I think that’s what Brad [Pitt]’s character is objecting to. I don’t doubt that Obama was sincere, but it’s a democracy. You have to persuade people. To do that you need money, and to do that you need business, and businesses have their own interests, and it really controls everything.”
Killing Them Softly opens on September 21st.
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