James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta Talk 'Killing Them Softly' Politics
Starring Brad Pitt, the Andrew Dominik crime film lends a critical ear to the words of Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Thomas Jefferson.
Though Brad Pitt’s latest film presents an analysis of America’s financial state in 2008, Killing Them Softly is not an anti-Obama film. In a way, it’s actually placing the blame on another president.
“It was about them putting money in their pockets, and it came about when Obama was running, right after George W. Bush finished up,” Ray Liotta told The Hollywood Reporter at a special Cinema Society screening of the film at NYC’s SVA Theatre this week. “It’s more of an indictment on that administration and what went wrong before he took over.”
The Weinstein Company film places Pitt as a hitman hired to clean up after a handful of minor crooks who raid a card game in a desolate post-Katrina New Orleans. In adapting George Higgins’ 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade to unfold during 2008’s financial crisis, clips from the presidential race – including President Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention – often play in the background to put the crimes of capitalism at the front of audiences’ minds.
“By moving it to 2008, you get a chance to comment on America,” director Andrew Dominik explained. “[Cogan’s Trade] is the story of an economic crisis, and there was an economic crisis happening around us at the time, and there were certain similarities. The movie’s pointing the finger at everyone, not [Obama] specifically.”
James Gandolfini, who plays a drunken killer-for-hire well past his prime, promises they’ll still be entertained.
“I don’t think we’re gonna teach anybody anything. If they don’t know it by now, they’ll interpret it the way that they want to,” he said. “People are forgetting, it’s a good gangster film; it’s enjoyable and it’s funny. It really is.”
Pitt arrived to the screening solo, donning a black leather jacket and tee -- similar to his costume in one of film's pivotal scenes. Yet rather than slicking his hair back like his character does, Pitt wore his shoulder-length mane shaggy instead.
Just before the screening began, Dominik introduced the cast of Killing Them Softly one by one, calling Pitt "the best friend a director could have." He did so alongside producers Dede Gardner, Megan Ellison and Harvey Weinstein, who attended the screening with Georgina Chapman.
Patrick Stewart, Catherine Keener, Steve Buscemi, Jennifer Carpenter, Kanye West, Chris Noth, Russell Simmons and more also gathered to watch the film and mingle at nightclub No. 8 afterward. A corner of the bottom floor was blocked off by bodyguards for Pitt, Dominik and others, while Gandolfini and Liotta each filled booths with their screening guests.
The film was originally scheduled for release in September, but was pushed back twice to after Election Day. Yet the cast asserted that the timing shouldn’t affect what the film hopes to comment on.
“It would’ve been great if it was during the election, but I think what it’s about isn’t just the election; it’s a big issue about this country. Is this country gonna be a big prostitute? Or are we gonna have real values about caring about people and not just ‘Gimme, gimme, gimme?’” said Max Casella, who is sent to punish Liotta's character for letting the card game go free to rookie robbers.
“This country, regardless of Democrats or Republican, needs to get back to caring about the middle class and needs to keep a floor below which no one is allowed to sink. This whole thing about greed and getting what’s mine and ‘screw you,’ that’s gotta go.”
The actors noted that Dominik’s style made their short time in New Orleans a challenging shoot, as the director prefers to run scenes from beginning to end each time a new take or angle is needed, even if the scene is more than 10 pages long.
“You have no [down] time, you sit on the curb, you don’t go to your trailer; you shoot,” Scoot McNairy told THR of playing an amateur thief opposite seasoned actor and producer, Pitt. “If you’re working for 12 hours, there’s a camera rolling for 12 hours. It ... doesn’t let us get lazy or lethargic, which I liked. It makes the time go by faster and gets you out of your head.”
THR film critic Todd McCarthy notes that the 97-minute feature is more overt in its political allegory -- through noteworthy near-monologues by Gandolfini and “Pitt’s pithy excoriation of Thomas Jefferson’s hypocrisy” in the film’s final line -- than Dominik’s last film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
“I watched it; it was a slow build, a slow burn, and I got it,” actor Vincent Curatola, who also appears in Killng Them Softly, said of Assassination. “But this film, it’s right in your face. When guys who are losers, like these characters are, decide they’re gonna do a crime, it’s great. It’s fast, fast, fast.”
Killing Them Softly opens in theaters on Nov. 30.