A Conversation with Killing Them Softly Director Andrew Dominik

A Conversation with Killing Them Softly Director Andrew DominikWorking for a little over a decade, director Andrew Dominik has become an integral voice in the world of cinema. It was his 2007 film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford that really got my attention and made me realize this was a filmmaker to make note of. Last year, Dominik unleashed his latest opus, Killing Them Softly, to critical acclaim. To coincide with the Blu-ray release of the film this week, I was able to have a chat with Dominik about the film and his inspirations.

To me, the whole film, even down to its marketing, was about preconceived notions. It’s sold as this big action film, when at its core it is really about economic unrest. It has these known actors that most of which play characters types they aren’t normally associated with. It’s about criminals but doesn’t come close to glamorizing them. Was this all part of the grand scheme?

Dominik: Yeah. Obviously there’s a certain amount of type-casting going on, but they all tend to play against type. It’s also a movie about men at work and they don’t really like their jobs. They’re kind of a drag and they have to do these unpleasant things to make money. I wanted to show that crime is not glamorous. It’s kind of a bore; kind of a chore. I really wanted to reflect that there is an air of desperation and unpleasantness.

Speaking of playing against type, it was a treat to see some of these actors in a different light. Here, Ray Liotta is the one getting roughed up.

It’s like cinematic karma for the things he did in Goodfellas.

(Laughs) Exactly! James Gandolfini comes in as the ultimate badass but ends up being all washed up. It feels like casting these guys was a conscious decision to have the audience built up one way and then take them a completely other route.

Yes, absolutely.

A Conversation with Killing Them Softly Director Andrew Dominik

The film is based off of the novel Cogan’s Trade written by George V. Higgins. What was it about that novel that made it something you wanted to create?

It was the characters. They were just so well drawn and they were really entertaining to me. That was the main thing. Being able to take criminals and that kind of “work-a-day” fashion… they always seem much more concerned with anything but the crime they were committing unlike a heist movie where there’s a ticking clock and they’ve got to stick to the plan. It’s just about these guys that need money for whatever reason. One guy because he wants to go out with a girl. One guy because he wants a car. That’s really what they are focused on and their hoping that the job will kind of take care of itself. Of course, it doesn’t. Then there’s realizing that the movie is essentially about an economic collapse. Their economy is supported by gambling and they’ve got to fix it so that everyone can start making money again. That seemed to reflect what was going on in the world around me at the time. I figured I could use one story to kind of bounce of the other story and vice versa.

The first time we see Jackie Coogan (Brad Pitt) actually kill someone, it’s this incredibly beautiful sequence. It’s almost like a dance in the way it is shot and choreographed. What went in to filming that bit and what was the reasoning behind filming something so brutal so beautifully?

That’s a really complicated kind of sequence. It took quite a while to shoot. The reason, I mean, the movie’s called Killing Them Softly and I wanted to have a feeling that was like a lullaby. Also there’s a little bit of sleight of hand there. The previous violence was seen as really brutal so I wanted to do one to let the audience of the hook a little bit so I could hit them again later. That was the reason for doing it that way. Also, cause it was fun! As the editors said about that sequence, it’s got “no nutritional value whatsoever”. It’s just all candy.

Precisely! It’s such an incredible sequence to me. Not only does it heighten the artistry of the film, but in a day and age where action films are nothing but jump cuts and quick edits, it’s unbelievably refreshing to see a film not only take a moment to appreciate its sequences, but to dwell within them.

I guess there is something a little “old-fashioned” about the movie.

Oh, for sure. Especially with the film being very dialogue heavy. That’s the kind of film I love. I love to see moments between actors and see their characters genuinely interacting versus “let’s go from point A to point B” with no real basis or knowledge of character.

Me too. I like people.

A Conversation with Killing Them Softly Director Andrew Dominik

(Laughs) In regards to the Blu-ray for Killing Them Softly, as well as the Blu-ray release for your previous film before it, the phenomenal The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, there are next to no special features included with the films. Is that personal choice and you just wanting to let the films speak for themselves?

No. There was a kind of fucked up process with cutting that movie (Assassination of Jesse James). Everyone was sick of it. Then there are the studios. If they don’t give a shit, they just do that “dump it out there” kind of thing.

That’s a shame.

This one (Killing Them Softly) has some scenes on there, right?

Yes, it does actually. A couple deleted scenes that, unlike most films, are actually quite compelling. Especially the one with Frankie (actor Scoot McNairy) where he tells this story of this girl he wanted to marry. It’s such a brutal story that kind of sums up the whole film in a way. The prize is never the payoff.


You’ve had a film, Blonde, based on Marilyn Monroe’s entire life in the works for quite some time now. Where are you at with that film?

Well, Blonde is…With the financial underperformance of the movie (Killing Them Softly) it affected everything quite negatively. At the moment what I am trying to do with Blonde is figure out a way to make it a little cheaper.

Being a fan of yours and of Marilyn, I wish you the best of luck on this and can’t wait for it to see the light of day.

Killing Them Softly is now available to own on Blu-ray and DVD combo. Shop for it at Amazon.com.

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