Writer/director Andrew Dominik doesn’t mince words, or politics, in his new thriller Killing Them Softly.
The Brad Pitt vehicle, now out on Blu-ray and DVD, casts the actor as a world-weary hit man assigned to kill a pair of low-level hoods for ripping off a poker game. Dominik fuses politics into nearly every sequence, often by using nearby radios or televisions to broadcast the latest headlines from late 2008 or even that year’s presidential debates.
The story itself unfolds while the U.S. economy teeters on collapse, and Sens. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) duke it out for the chance to right the ship.The director’s off-screen sympathies are clear–he is no different than most of today’s creative class in his preference for the current White House occupant. He did clash with the film’s producer, Obama booster Harvey Weinstein, on whether the film’s sour take on American capitalism would make the president look badly.
Dominik is just as quick as his peers to remind us President Obama inherited a rough situation regarding the economy back in 2008. What sets him apart is his assessment of the last four-plus years in terms of economic recovery mode.
“It doesn’t seem that things are getting better,” he admits.
It’s a cynicism that meshes well with Softly, a movie that looks at the U.S. Economy with the same jaundiced eye as organized crime.
The film’s characters aren’t political in nature but they do play to criminal archetypes, something Dominik planned from the outset. He says using the actors who once played Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) in key roles was to “use those associations against the audience,” he says.
Dominik says the idea for the film came to him while reading Cogan’s Trade by author George V. Higgins. The story’s characters seduced the filmmaker, but he couldn’t escape the headlines about the economic crisis and the 2008 presidential election. So he decided to join the two at the cinematic hip.
Pitt’s presence in front of the camera and some glowing reviews weren’t enough to make Killing Them Softly a hit. In fact, it may go down as one of Pitt’s biggest box office disappointments. Killing Them Softly is marked by extreme violence–some comical in nature while others are brutal in their intensity.
Dominik doesn’t point to the current debate over Hollywood movie violence as the culprit.
“It’s not the kind of really mass market movie it was marketed as,” he says.
That’s not to say Dominik and Pitt won’t work together again. The pair first teamed up for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Pitt will produce the director’s next project.
“He’s at a stage in his life where he just wants to do good work. He cares about his legacy,” Dominik says of his collaborator.
Dominik’s next assignment is a biopic of an actress whose legacy continues to color the pop landscape. Blonde, based on the 2000 book by Joyce Carol Oates, looks at the tragic life of Marilyn Monroe. He refers to the story as akin to a Grimm’s fairy tales.
“Everyone expects to see a movie about a very fucked up person, and it will play to those expectations,” he says.