Writer/Director Andrew Dominik talks ‘Killing Them Softly’, Brad Pitt and the art of adapting novels into films
November 30, 2012 by Dana Feldman
by Dana Feldman
Brad Pitt at the helm of any movie makes it noteworthy but in his latest, the gangster thriller KILLING THEM SOFTLY, his performance as the no-nonsense get-the-job-done enforcer slash hit man, Jackie Cogan, is flawless. Based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by George V. Higgins, the film was both directed and written by New Zealand born Andrew Dominik, well known for the 2007 hit “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” also starring Pitt, as well as 2000’s “Chopper” starring Eric Bana, both of which he also wrote based on novels and directed. Pitt’s Cogan is hired to restore order in a world rarely described as orderly after a Mob protected card game is hit causing the local criminal economy to collapse. The heist, organized by guys who aren’t exactly good at organizing anything, is set against the government’s bailout plan with a systemic corruption endemic of recent times in our country and around the globe.
Of the book that serves as the inspiration for Dominik’s first film in five years, he’s explained that upon reading it, he immediately felt it was suitable for the big screen with unique characters, great dialogue and an interesting plot. “I originally imagined the film as a drama but as I got into it, it struck me that this was a story of an economic crisis; a crisis in a criminal economy supported by gambling and the problem was caused by a failure to regulate. In other words, a microcosm of the larger story unfolding in America at the time.” Dominik adds, “The idea was to play it for laughs. What we’re really trying to get across is that it’s a funny and entertaining film.”
Of his love for reading, he says, “I read books all the time. I’m just half looking for something to do, I mostly just read for pleasure. Occasionally I stumble across something that could be a movie, but I don’t put a book down just because I don’t see a movie in it either.”
When asked about the process of adapting a novel into a film, he says that it’s mysterious, a bit like falling in love. “It’s different in each case,” he explains. “With ‘Chopper’ (based on the best-selling autobiography “From the Inside” written by Mark “Chopper” Read while he was serving time in prison) the book is about a man who’s killed people with no regrets, but then on the next page he talks about being haunted by his victims. This was a person who was deeply conflicted by what he did and this was endlessly fascinating to me. It was as if he was a person inside a person.”
In regards to Jesse James, which was based on Ron Hansen’s novel, Dominik tells of what first drew him to the project. “The book was just extraordinary. I fell in love with it. There was something haunting about this world at the end of the nineteenth century and about these two men, one who suffered from depression and the other from anxiety, and how they wanted to switch places.”
With his latest film, Dominik was looking to make a movie with an intriguing plot and interesting characters. “This story deals with people with a certain loss of vitality all the way through and I could relate to them. They’re all chasing a buck in the grimmest way, which was something that really struck a chord with me. Many people around me were struggling financially at that time.”
Asked about this second go around with Pitt, Dominik says that the two have become friends over the past twelve or so years. “I mean, we’re not friends like I’d just walk into his house and go through his fridge,” pausing momentarily he laughs, “though I have actually done that.” He says that it all began when Pitt approached him after seeing ‘Chopper.’ “Brad’s concerned about cinema and he wants to make good movies. I’m lucky to be in that company. Working with him on Jesse James was just a natural fit really and we formed a good relationship as actor and director.”
Pitt, he says, is difficult to cast. “I can’t just cast him in a part where he’s an every man. I can’t see him as just a guy in a market or something. He has to have a certain baggage.” So, with their second film together Dominik explains that there is a lot of trust, a certain type of shorthand between the two that makes it very easy. “I’m a fan of his. He’s a fantastic actor and he likes to play and come at a role from many different directions. We plot little scenarios with the scenes. It’s fun to work together, he trusts me and I trust him. As both an actor and a producer he’s fantastic. He doesn’t care much about the minutiae, he just cares that it’s a great film.”
Already garnering positive praise, the film was recently nominated at Cannes for the coveted Palme d’Or award. Pitt said of the film on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he wasn’t interested in doing just another gangster film. Taking on the challenging role, he admits that the film doesn’t hold back on the violence, yet has intelligent humor. “Cogan doesn’t like feelings, for him its just business.”
Also starring are Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Sam Shepard, Scoot McNairy, Max Casella, Trevor Long, Ben Mendelsohn, Vincent Curatola and Slaine.
As for the opening weekend, Dominik admits to being nervous. “I’m really, really worried. Basically the next few days will determine the fate of this film. We don’t know until we know.” He’s currently working on a new project about Marilyn Monroe entitled “Blonde.”
Watch the Killing Them Softly movie trailer.