Brad Pitt's gritty new project, Killing Them Softly (formerly titled Cogan's Trade, and based on a book of the same name), made its debut to the press at the Cannes Film Festival this morning. Considering the early hour of the screening and just how violent and drug-fueled it is as a film, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it overall. Pitt is at his best playing the ruthless assassin, and James Gandolfini can, of course, carry a mob movie.
- Who's behind it? Like Sapphires and Lawless, it's another The Weinstein Company film here at the festival. Writer-director Andrew Dominik brings together an excellent cast of men to tell his story, including Ray Liotta in addition to Pitt and Gandolfini. With that much testosterone on screen, there's not much room for the ladies. In fact, there's barely a female to be seen in the film at all. At the center, there are two bumbling thieves, played by Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn, who shine in their own deeply messed-up ways — often seen sweating and using drugs. Pitt, who we have seen playing a ruthless assassin before, does it again, this time with slicked-back hair and a cigarette dangling from his mouth as he explains his preferred method of murder — "killing them softly," rather than listening to them plead.
- What's it about? On paper, it's about a heist at a mob poker game gone wrong, but as both the director and Pitt spoke at the film's press conference after the screening, it's a much larger commentary on America's capitalist society. It's set in New Orleans against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis and election, with actual speeches from Barack Obama and Sarah Palin sprinkled throughout. As for the actual heist at stake, Frankie and Russell (McNairy and Mendelsohn) rob a poker game that was previously hit up as part of a scam put on by its own owner, Andrew (Liotta). Pitt's character, Jackie Cogan, is brought in by the larger mob bosses to assassinate the men. Wires are quickly crossed and it can be hard to tell who is working for whom, but with the crazy visuals and hilarious, sometimes unsettling, one-liners, it is a riveting watch. I, for one, was particularly amused by the scenes about Russell running a racket by stealing purebred dogs.
More important even than the story, however, is the feel of the film. It takes place and was shot in New Orleans, a city which Pitt is clearly comfortable in. It's not quite a love letter to the city — or to anything for that matter — like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but it still has that uniquely gritty and stylized New Orleans feel.
To read what I thought of the film at Cannes, just read more.
- What did I think? The performances, especially by Gandolfini, could start award-season buzz, depending on how and when Killing Them Softly is released stateside. While the film is not for the faint of heart, it's a thought-provoking watch. The humor and political commentary keep it from being a straightforward mob movie, therefore setting it apart from being the same story we've seen 100 times before. Plus, Pitt's swagger, Gandolfini's monologue expertise, and a pack of dogs are welcome at any movie for me. Watch out for the last line, though, it will stick with you.