“Killing Them Softly,” Andrew Dominik’s adaptation of the George V. Higgins crime novel “Cogan’s Trade,” will have its gala premiere tonight at the Cannes Film Festival. The film screened this morning for the press, who were treated to a gritty, stylized and deeply cynical genre exercise in which Brad Pitt played hardened hit man Jackie Cogan. (Pitt last worked with Dominik on “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”) Ray Liotta, Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendolsohn co-star in a film that takes its inspiration from Martin Scorsese, murder ballads and America's recent economic crisis which, as in the movie was brought on by greed and a fatal lack of self-control.
From the very first scene, “Killing Them Softly” interleaves its story of low-lifes and bloody assassinations with politics, setting the tale during the 2008 presidential election, including lots of clips of George W. Bush and then-candidate Barack Obama discussing the financial meltdown, and painting Jackie as a Darwinian capitalist who would be right at home at Bain Capital – at least as the company is being depicted by the Obama re-election campaign.
“Killing Them Softly” is due out in September, just in time for the elections. But Dominik and Pitt – who produced the movie – insisted they have no political agenda.
“I don’t know what Jackie’s political views are,” the New Zealand-born Dominik said at a press conference following the screening. “I certainly don’t think he would be a bail-out type of guy. He’d be more for regulation.” (That interpretation is subject to debate; the movies haven’t seen as dispassionate a capitalist as Jackie Cogan since Gordon Gekko; Mitt Romney might even call him “severe.”)
“We weren’t designing it so much for election year,” Pitt said, adding that he was in Chicago the night Obama was elected and remembers it as “an electric, kinetic, event.” He said the clip of Obama’s speech that night is included in the film, “not as a cynical look back or a statement of failure, but as a real an expression of hope.
“This election year, I think we’re going to see more negative ads than ever before, and I certainly don’t want this film to in any way be mistaken as a part of that,” Pitt continued, adding that “with the Superpac groups, I think it’s going to be rather ugly.” If it is, it won’t have anything on the grime, greed and spasmodic gore of “Killing Them Softly.”
If Pitt needs a break from negative campaigning, he might want to check out “No,” which has turned out to be a hot ticket at this year’s Market. The historically-based drama stars Gael Garcia Bernal as advertising executive Rene Saavedra, who in 1988 agreed to come up with an ad campaign for a referendum on the rule of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. (The vote for freedom against repression, torture, executions and disappearances was a “No,” presenting the tricky problem of going positive on voting negative.)
Shot on videotape in a nearly square aspect-ratio to resemble a television screen, “No” was directed by Pablo Larrain and produced by Participant Media. Part “Recount” and part “Mad Men,” it was picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics, one of the few high-profile acquisitions at a rain-soaked festival during which deals seem to be as washed out as the sidewalks.