Cannes John Bleasdale

Cannes 2012: ‘Killing Them Softly’ preview

One of the most eagerly-anticipated films of the 65th Cannes Film Festival has to be Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly (2012). Based on the 1974 George V. Higgins novel Cogan’s Trade, the film stars Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan, a mob enforcer who is called in when a gang-run poker game gets ripped off. The supporting cast includes a prime selection of gangster film heavyweights including Tony Soprano himself James Galdolfini, Ray Liotta and also Richard Jenkins.

Originally sharing the novel’s title of Cogan’s Trade, the film adaptation’s moniker was recently changed to the lacklustre Killing Them Softly, reminiscent of both the justly forgotten Joseph Fiennes/Heather Graham ‘erotic’ abhorrence Killing Me Softly (2002), and the unfortunately difficult-to-forget Fugees song. According to early reports, the original cut was also over two-and-a-half hours in length, but the new running time – according to the Cannes programme – is now a relatively sprightly one hour and forty minutes.

Andrew Dominik first burst onto the scene back in 2000 with his graphically violent and darkly hilarious true crime biopic Chopper, starring the then unknown Eric Bana as real life Australian vigilante Mark Brandon ‘Chopper’ Read. Bana subsequently went on to star in a swathe of Hollywood product but failed to produces anything like the level of wit and originality of that first performance. Dominik meanwhile took a slower approach, making one of the most underrated films of the last decade in the form of western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007).

Establishing himself as not only a great visual stylist (with the aid of Roger Deakins’ beautiful cinematography) but also as a superb director of actors, this revisionist and elegiac western featured another career best performance in the work of Casey Affleck. Brad Pitt, in the title role, gave one of his most mature performances to date and obviously relished the opportunity of working with Dominik once more, as did Sam Shepherd who also teams up again with the New Zealand-born director in his new film.

One hopes that the change of title and the comparatively short runtime of Killing Them Softly are not evidence of studio interference, especially when the Weinsteins are involved. But then again the New Orleans-set crime drama is said to be darkly comic, and so perhaps we are in for less Malickian contemplation and more Chopper-esque antics. One thing is for sure – with only two feature films thus far to his name, Andrew Dominik’s latest entry could be decisive in solidifying his reputation.

The 65th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 16-27 May, 2012. For more of our Cannes 2012 coverage, simply follow this link.

John Bleasdale