TSJ Talks to “Killing Them Softly” Director, Andrew Dominik, for Like 5 Minutes
Killing Them Softly, a slick, neo-noir crime film directed by Andrew Dominik, and starring Brad Pitt, is based on the 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade. Killing Them Softly, which premiered in May 2012 at Cannes, is a very stylish movie. While it’s set in 2008, the clothes, the cars, the grainy texture of the light saturate it in ’70s nostalgia. (Dominik has said in interviews that he was inspired a lot by the 1968 movie, Salesman, for the movie’s aesthetic, and if you just watch this preview, you can spot the influences almost immediately.) The movie’s about gangster loyalties, hits, and gambling rings, and while the stars, including James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, and Sam Shepard, may be notorious for playing bad guys, the movie depicts their ties, their emotional lives, and the business of their work far more subtly than any Godfather.
Plus, like all of Dominik’s films, the movie’s got a killer soundtrack.
If you haven’t seen it yet you’re in luck — it’s just been released on Blue Ray and DVD. So what you’ve gotta do is you’ve gotta read up this interview then zip out and purchase yourself at least a couple of copies of the flick. One for you plus one for your mama, because, you know, Mother’s Day is coming up, and mamas, they love them some sexy cowboys.
TSJ talked to Andrew Dominik, director of Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Killing Them Softly for a brief few seconds on a bad connection. It was still cool.
“KILLING THEM SOFTLY” TRAILER
The Smoking Jacket: I’m excited to talk to you about your film Killing Them Softly. I just watched it last night, and I guess it’s coming out on DVD any minute now. So obviously there are some running themes in all of your films to date, from Chopper (2000), a movie about Mark “Chopper” Read, an Australian criminal who wrote his autobiography while serving time, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), a movie about the famous outlaw and his posse. How was the experience of making this movie different in comparison to the other two?
Andrew Dominik: I don’t know. Every film is different from every other film. You have to approach each movie completely differently, it’s almost like what you learned on the last movie doesn’t apply on the next one.
TSJ: I was thinking, when I was watching Killing Them Softly, that there’s this really interesting narrative mix happening in the movie, this historiographic metafiction, where you have an actual, newsworthy event — the recent American financial crisis — embedded into the fiction, and the more contemporary facts about the financial crisis create a kind of friction against the visual aspect of the story, which is very ’70s styled, and it’s as if the story’s caught in a slightly different time on purpose. Like a vintage now. It’s a pretty theatrical conversation going on. Do you think people are making enough consciously artificial choices in cinema?
AD: Well I think it was a conscious effort on this movie to make it kind of more cartoonish, not very subtle. It just seemed to lend itself to that. I mean there are people mucking around making stylized films all over the place, I guess. You don’t see it so much in Hollywood films because they’re very much catering to stories that people find comforting. You know, the stories that are told and what they’re telling and the way they’re done — it’s about meeting an audience’s expectations.
TSJ: Do you think a movie like Killing Them Softly manages to break those kinds of audience expectations on either a narrative or aesthetic level?
AD: All I heard was narrative. Do you have me on speaker or something?
TSJ: Yeah, I’m sorry, I have to use speakerphone for this interview.
AD: Do you mind getting a little closer then?
TSJ: Can you hear me better like this?
AD: Talk louder. I’m a little deaf.
TSJ: Is this better?
AD: It seems the same.
TSJ: I don’t know what to say then. Um. Let’s move on, I guess? You deal a lot with outlaws and gangsters in your movies, and they’re the kinds of people who on the surface don’t seem like they’re playing by the rules, but in the end it turns out their rules are just reflections of the society they’re in. We see some tight-knit business partnerships in Jesse James and Killing Them Softly – how do these reflect the bigger picture, do you think? Are outlaws really just a microcosm of any society, of politics, or government?
AD: I mean, you know, we’re talking about organized criminals and the mob are like a governing body for criminals, you know, so in [the Killing Them Softly] story it’s very much presented as a microcosm, but it’s a microcosm that doesn’t have to deal with persuasion. It can just do what it wants. No, actually it does have to do with persuasion to a certain extent because they do have to kill Marky because people think that Marky was involved in it, you know, they do have to deal with people’s perceptions, so I guess it does. But obviously it’ snot a democracy. So their problems are similar.
TSJ: I’ve read you’re interested in making a film from a Cormac McCarthy book.
AD: Say that again?
TSJ: Apparently you are interested in making a film based on a book by Cormack McCarthy? I read this on the Internet?
AD: I’ve written a couple of screenplays based on McCarthy books yeah, Cities of the Plain was the one I was trying to do for a while. I don’t know if you’ve read that one. It’s that Romeo and Juliet type love story.
TSJ: Yeah, it’s a great book. You’re obviously a big reader — all of the movies you’ve made, including the movie about Marilyn Monroe you’re working on currently, based on Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde, stem from books. How do you know which books will make for good movies? I feel like it’s something that might be tricky. Like the way an anecdote doesn’t always make for a good story, I’m sure not all books, while good in and of themselves, would necessarily work cinematically.
AD: I guess a book just has something that you fall in love with, you know. It deals with something that clicks with you. You don’t even know why. You just kind of fall in love with something. And you just think well, can I spend a certain amount of time living with this, or do I have the energy for it, do you know what I mean? But generally I like something with good characters, something that’s got something going on thematically, and you know, it seems to illustrate something about people that’s beautiful or unusual, and true.
TSJ: I was at a talk last year and Joyce Carol Oates was saying that Blonde was the most difficult book she’d ever written — which is saying a lot, considering her gigantic output. Was it as challenging to attack the film version?
AD: It’s actually been great. The first draft of it has been great fun to work on. I mean the book is very much like a fractured mirror, you know. And it exists in a stream-of-consciousness space, which the movie untangles to a certain extent. But Blonde was really a lot of fun to work on. I mean it’s a little different now because I’ve got to distill it a little bit from the version I’ve got and that’s proving to be tough, but it was a lot of fun for me.
TSJ: I imagine that Naomi Watts is wonderful as Marilyn. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the movie.
AD: Yeah. I’m really in love with the project.
TSJ: Your previous films are very much focused on a macho, a male-centered world. Does the Marilyn movie deal with this male-centered world or does it show more of a female-centered world? She is, in a way, just the pawn in a business of men, after all.
AD: It very much follows her.
TSJ: Was that a change of tone for you?
AD: I mean, I’m not female. I kind of have to imagine what that would be like. But you know, women are people too. People are people.