Killing Them Softly, the last of the films from The Weinstein Company in the Cannes Film Festival‘s official selection — and easily the distributor’s most controversial, politically at least — is premiering tonight. Star Brad Pitt made the day of the paparazzi who kept incessantly yelling “Brad! Brad! Brad!” at the pre-press conference photo call even as his co-stars and director Andrew Dominik stood virtually ignored in the same shots. Pitt marks the biggest star presence yet at the festival: Showing his true power, even the rainy skies turned blue, the temperature outside heated up and the sun came out just in time for his hike up the Palais’ red-carpeted steps.
The film, on which Pitt and partner Dede Gardner were among the producers through their Plan B shingle, is a tough-as-nails, tight, noirish and brutal crime thriller that boasts an ensemble of exceptionally fine performances. That includes Pitt as an strictly all-business hit man hired by the mob after small-time crooks pull off a heist of their poker game. Also perfectly cast are veterans James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta, Sam Shepard (briefly) and Scoot McNairy. The only woman I can remember in the cast was a prostitute roundly and hilariously insulted by the sex-obsessed hired gun played by Gandolfini.
The testosterone-driven genre film stands with the best recent examples, and it is also surprisingly political — switching the setting of the 1974 Boston-based George Higgins novel Cogan’s Trade to 2008 New Orleans right at the time of the presidential election and economic meltdown. For most of the movie’s running time, the politics are simmering in the background with numerous excerpts of speeches from then-candidate Barack Obama and then-President George W. Bush. Toward the end it gets more pronounced, particularly when Pitt’s character Jackie Cogan seemingly puts out one of his “hits” on Obama’s hopeful speech-making.
In talking to the press earlier today though Pitt, who said he was proudly there in Chicago the “amazing” night Obama got elected, tried to downplay that aspect saying the movie was less a cynical expression of failure and more “an expression of hope that speaks more of our great toxic divide. Where it’s more about a party being right than even about the issues themselves. Viewers, particularly Democrats, are going to have to decide for themselves as the Cogan character is reeking of cynicism particularly with his instant-classic final line referring to Obama’s insistence that we are all a community. “The United States is not a country. The United States is a business. Now give me my money,” he demands. The fact that stalwart Democrat Harvey Weinstein is choosing to open this film in the U.S. on September 21, right in the middle of Obama’s re-election campaign is certainly an intriguing choice. “I think we are going to see more negative election ads than ever. It’s going to get ugly,” he said hoping the film does not become part of that scenario.
In a French TV interview they did before the press conference the group, that also included Liotta, McNairy, and Mendelsohn, Writer/Director Dominik (who previously worked with Pitt on The Assasination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford) said with the mortgage crisis we need much stronger regulation and that the country turned into capitalism run-amok. In fact this might be seen as an anti-capitalism film in some ways. “The story itself I realized was about an economic crisis based on gambling and no regulation,” he said even though I think most people will simply see it as a crime thriller than a polemic on the economy . Pitt pointed out that “the movie doesn’t clarify itself until the end when we see the bigger picture. I am a capitalist but we do need much stronger regulation.”
As with his Oscar-nominated Moneyball and The Tree Of Life Pitt continues to choose challenging roles that may not be everyone’s cup of tea but certainly see him stretch as an actor. He also said he enjoys producing. “What I like about producing is you get to start at the beginning of a project and develop it. I enjoy the creative process but once we start shooting it is all about the acting,” he said noting that being a producer does make him much more conscious of budgetary items. “It does give you a sense of responsibility”, he told the interviewer. Pitt says his company is particularly looking for stories that say something about our time and who we are.
Pitt is practically a regular in Cannes now, having been here with many films including the Palme d’Or winning The Tree Of Life last year. This year Angelina Jolie is not with him. She is in pre-production now on Maleficent.