Just past Cannes’s halfway point – underscored by Sunday’s celestial watershed – we’re now staring down the second act of this grand-dame film festival. And guess who just rolled into town looking all Legends of the fall meets Thor-ageing-remarkably-well? Yup, Brad Pitt.
Star of new film Killing Them Softly, Pitt reunited with New-Zeand born director Andrew Dominik after their 2007 effort “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”
Selected to compete for the coveted Palme d’Or this year, Dominik’s latest is a visceral take on George V. Higgin’s novel ‘Cogan’s Trade‘. But instead of the 70s, events are now set in recession hit America, against a backdrop of the 2008 U.S election.
Pitt is Jackie Cogan, an enforcer brought in to ‘clean up’ when a heist goes down during a Boston mob-protected poker game.
Also starring Ray Liotta, Sam Shepard, Richard Jenkins and James Gandolfini, the film may sound like yet another mob film, but actually it’s a slick rage-against-the-machine slice of cinema with thickly-laid political themes.
Played against the sights and sounds of Obama’s “Yes we can” campaign and Bush Jr’s bluster about economic recovery – in the film relegated to empty pufferies – Cogan delivers lines like, “I like to kill ’em softly, from a distance” and “America’s not a country, it’s just a business” – as if in stark relief to the ‘promises’ of Capitol Hill.
Unsurprisingly, the film has met with mixed reactions from critics.
Alex Billington from First Showingtweeted, “Dominik’s Killing Them Softly – Brutal as f-k! But also lacking a bit. Felt way too short, oddly. Typical hit-and-kill kind of crime flick.” Tatyana Shorokhova of Kinopoisk reiterated saying, “Killing Them Softly = boring them deadly.”
Indiewire, while describing it as enjoyable, reviewed it as: “Like the rest of ‘Killing Them Softly,’ the cast is positioned in blatant symbolic terms. By the time Jackie explains the “corporate mentality” of the killing process, Dominik has made made his intentions so clear that they nearly collapse.”
But just as many, if not more, loved the film.
Forbes is already talking Oscars, Brad Brevet loved it, and The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw described it as, “outstandingly watchable, superbly and casually pessimistic.”
Eric Lavallee of ioncinemadeclared the film was, “This Year’s DRIVE. Stylized, gritty, but w/out the extra trimmings simplified structure”, while Sasha Stone tweeted “Dominik’s anti/American rant a solid film. Great perf by Pitt. One of the best of Fest.”
And at the Cannes press conference held earlier today, Pitt obviously agreed.
Talking about the “age old battle of art and commerce”, the 49 year-old said, ” there’s something noble about making something that says something and… being able to do it within that system where it has to be profitable, or the thing doesn’t get made.”
And in a comment bound to excite literalists, the Moneyball actor said, “I’d have a much harder problem playing a racist for instance than, say, shooting someone right in the face.”
Perhaps aware of how the film’s politics could be taken as some sort of ‘personal statement’, Pitt made it clear Killing Them Softly wasn’t an attack on Obama. Saying he was “not opposed to characters that have different views”, the actor described himself as leaning “towards the left” but slammed America’s “toxic divide.”
Away from the heavy stuff, Pitt had generous praise for his co-star James Gandolfini, saying, “Watching him act was like watching Brando.”
Killing Them Softly premieres at the festival this evening. With or without fiancee Angelina Jolie, who is not in Cannes, it should be a stellar affair.
Watch a brief clip from the film here: