IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director Andrew Dominik Talks 'Killing Them Softly'

Thursday, 29 November 2012 18:30 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director Andrew Dominik Talks 'Killing Them Softly'

Australian director Andrew Dominik first gained attention in 2000 with his directorial debut Chopper, which is the film that helped make Eric Bana an international star. He followed it up with ‘2007s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which starred Brad Pitt as the infamous cowboy and earned Casey Affleck an Oscar-nomination for Best Supporting actor. Now, Dominik returns with his latest film Killing Them Softly, which once again stars Brad Pitt and opens in theaters on November 30th. 

Killing Them Softly was also written by Dominik and based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by author George V. Higgins. The film tells the story of Jackie Cogan (Pitt), an enforcer hired to restore order after three dumb guys rob a Mob protected card game that causes the local criminal economy to collapse. In addition to Pitt (who also produced the movie with his company Plan B Entertainment), the film features an excellent cast of supporting actors that includes Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), James Gandolfini (True Romance), Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods), Sam Shepard (Safe House), Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom), Scoot McNairy (Argo) and Vincent Curatola (HBO's The Sopranos). 

I recently had an opportunity to speak exclusively with writer/director Andrew Dominik about his work on Killing Them Softly. The acclaimed director discussed his new film, his writing process, why he chose to use the 2008 financial crisis and Presidential election as a backdrop to the story, his visual techniques, music, working with Brad Pitt as an actor and a producer, why Pitt continues to be passionate about making movies, and the film’s outstanding supporting cast. 

Here is what he had to say:

IAR: To begin with, the film is about organized crime yet you chose to use the 2008 Presidential election and financial crisis as a backdrop to the story, can you talk about making that narrative choice as a filmmaker?

Andrew Dominik: Well you know the movie itself is a story of an economic crisis and it's an economic crisis that's caused because of a failure to regulate. We have to deal with the problem itself, and not what people perceive to be the problem. So essentially it's a movie about politics. Politics in the criminal world, but it basically just seemed to be a microcosm of what was going on in the world at the time. I've always felt that there are similarities between all the ways in which men organize themselves, whether it's government corporations or criminal organizations. Crime is basically capitalism at its most basic form. I guess I wanted to show that criminals are becoming more like corporations. It seems like society is pretty much the same from top to bottom. The same basic ideas are at play just at the polar opposite end of the spectrum and the brutality is a little more obvious. It just seemed to me like when I was writing this, that every time I’d turned on the radio, or any time I got in the car, it was all about “the world is about to go down the toilet.”

The film is shot in an extremely interesting way, especially the heroin scene and the assassination scene in the car. Can you talk about what you were trying to achieve visually in those sequences?

Dominik: I guess the murder scene in the car was a chance to have a set piece and to present the murder softly, like the title of the movie. So it was like a lullaby and I wanted to make it gorgeous. It also has the effect of undercutting some of the earlier violence that we see in this film because it's so stylized and in a way that is distant from it. So then later on when you get nasty again you can have some impact.     

Can you talk about the music in the film and how that helped set the tone for the story?

Dominik: A lot of the music was actually written into the screenplay and the idea was that everything was going to comment on everything. The background action on the television is sort of commenting on what's going on in the foreground and even the songs would sort of be telling you stuff, like the whole world's talking at you I guess. I pulled back on some of those ideas when I was actually cutting it. I felt like it was just a little too much, but its trial and error I guess as to what sounds work with what images. 

Obviously you knew Brad Pitt from filming The Assassination of Jesse James together, but can you talk about collaborating with him on this project, not just as an actor but also as a producer with his company Plan B Entertainment? 

Dominik: In some ways I owe my entire career to Brad Pitt, at least in America. He's acted in both the films that I've done. He's produced both of them, and he's been a friend and my landlord. It's always just really natural to approach Brad when there's something I'm doing that he seems vaguely right for, you know what I mean? I find him to be a really good actor and he's also a lot of fun to work with. I think we both seem to like to come at it from the same direction. The key thing to making a movie is to somehow make people live. You've got to have something actually happen between the two actors that you're shooting so that it feels like there's something actually going on with the two characters in the story and Brad's really up for exploring when we shoot. He's always looking for something that's unique. I usually have an idea of how things should be, but there's many different ways you could go at it, and he's always a great partner in that stuff. Then as a producer he's the best friend a filmmaker can have because he's like an 800-pound gorilla. And when he's your 800-pound gorilla and he's sitting on people for you, it's just fantastic!

Did he always want to play Jackie or did he consider taking on any of the other roles?

Dominik: It was always Jackie. I mean Jackie's like the part, if you know what I mean? I just took the story to him and he got involved on that basis.

Did you discuss Killing Them Softly with him while you were making Jesse James or was this movie developed after you made that film?

Dominik: No, It was a long time after that movie when he finally got involved in this. I think directors and actors have different motives for why they want to make films. There's got to be enough of an overlap where you want to do it together. 

That’s a very interesting point you just made. To follow up on that, what's your sense of why Brad Pitt continues to want to make movies at this point in his career?

Dominik: I think Brad at this point just wants to do work that’s good, you know? He has a production company that he's basically formed for that purpose, Plan B, who are making films that might not otherwise get made with filmmakers like Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) and Steve McQueen (Twelve Years a Slave). At this stage I think Brad's just very much concerned with making good movies and movies that he can be personally satisfied by. 

Finally, in addition to Brad Pitt, the film boasts an incredible supporting cast that includes Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, and Richard Jenkins. Can you talk about putting the cast together and working with those actors?

Dominik: Jim (Gandolfini) was somebody that the part was written for and I very much went after him to play that because he's just a great actor. I needed somebody who had some kind of sense of sensitivity about everything so that you would be able to feel something for that character. Ray was somebody who I've always liked who actually just wanted to be in the movie. He liked this particular part of Markie Trattman so I just said, yeah, thanks. 

Killing Them Softly opens in theaters on November 30th. 

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