Andrew Dominik, writer and director of Killing Them Softly, admits that there is something truly special about the talents of Brad Pitt that keeps him coming back. After directing the superstar in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Dominik could think of no one more perfect for the mob “fixer” Jackie -- as seen in the Killing Them Softly trailer.
“I worked with him before on Jesse James, and I feel that he’s somebody who can do anything. He has a certain mystery to him. You can’t cast him as an everyman,” Dominik said.
“But, you can cast him as somebody who’s extraordinary -- particularly in a character like this, that we don’t know much about. That sense of mystery that you’re only seeing the top 10-percent of the iceberg is something he’s good at. He’s got a real good sense of comic timing as well. Brad Pitt is just a great actor.”
Dominik phoned Movie Fanatic for an exclusive interview taking us further inside the dark world that was first created on the pages of George V. Higgins’ novel. “I really liked his characters. I could really see them all. I could hear them and I could imagine being in the room with them. And he really captured a real sense of authenticity. The initial attraction was Higgins’ voice,” Dominik said.
There’s an underlying tension to the story of an underground poker game run by Ray Liotta that is robbed. It’s 2008 and as Election Day approaches, the U.S. is in the grips of a financial collapse not seen since the Great Depression. “Once I realized the movie was about the economic crisis and I got the idea contrasting it against the bailout, the movie became a bit more generic or a bit more poppy,” he said.
Speeches on the subject are heard throughout including an Obama one that intercuts with the film’s opening credits. Although some have forgotten, that economically frightening period of late 2008 had just a few illegal activities as its cause -- mirroring the gamblers and killers of Killing Them Softly.
“What I was trying to show was there's a certain criminality in America from top to bottom,” Dominik said. “The story of an economic collapse was supported by people who were, in a sense, gambling. That was kind of what was going on in 2008.”
The film has a strong and compelling story, made infinitely more resonant due to the deep thought process with which Dominik wrote, and subsequently shot, the film -- shown off in these Killing Them Softly clips. “The idea originates in the screenplay and you provide a verbal description of what it’s going to be. But, it gets flushed out in pre-production. You storyboard it,” Dominik said.
He then pushes the creativity envelope to give his film a look that is unforgettable. “We go further and get the lenses out and we do a little photo essay. We’re always looking for great little accidents that we can discover,” Dominik said.
In one particular sequence with Pitt and a car window, it is a violent thing of beauty. “In scenes like that you can’t just loosey-goosey with it. You have to plan it. But at the same time you want it to be organic in some way. I remember for that sequence, I went and did those photo essays with the cars, to also see what other unusual things we could find too.”
One of the many, almost acting clinic like, scenes in the film involve Pitt and Richard Jenkins. The actor had previously eluded Dominik. “I asked Richard for Jesse James and he wouldn’t do it,” Dominik admitted and laughed.
Once on the Killing Me Softly set, it was worth the wait. “One of the things he said to me was, 'Listen, give me a couple of takes by myself before you do anything.' I did it. Then I did give him direction. He’d pretty much do anything you ask him to do. But I would always go back to Richard’s first two takes. He really knows what he’s doing, that guy.”
His film is riddled with tension, but also terrifically artistic dialogue and a visual style that sticks with a viewer for weeks. “I always think that’s the mark of a good movie is that it lasts beyond the day that you saw it,” Dominik said.