Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly

Cast: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins
Director: Andrew Dominik
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Running Time: 97 minutes

Synopsis: When their illegal card game is held up, and the life blood of the criminal economy is on the verge of collapse, the mafia calls in enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to fix the situation. Navigating between his indecisive crime bosses and the dim witted lowlifes behind the heist, Cogan moves to restore order, and protect his interests before the situation spirals out of control.

Release Date: September 20th, 2012

Director's Statement

I saw The Friends Of Eddy Coyle on television and was immediately struck by the realism of the characters, situations and dialogue. I looked up George V Higgins on the internet and discovered that he had been a prosecuting attorney in Boston for 20 years, and at this point I got interested... here was a person who knew what he was writing about, had written another 20 novels, all of which, it seemed, were now out of print. Knowing Hollywood logic, the powers that be would have written Higgins off after Eddy Coyle failed to make a splash at the box-office, and here was a potentially untapped treasure trove of material. I ordered about 10 of the books from second-hand booksellers and read them as they arrived in my mailbox. Cogans Trade was the third one in line, and it seemed immediately suitable for filmic treatment: great characters, great dialogue and very simple plot.

I originally imagined the film as a drama but as I got into it, it struck me that this was a story of an economic crisis; a crisis in a criminal economy supported by gambling, and the problem was caused by a failure to regulate. In other words: a microcosm of the larger story unfolding in America at the time.

And then I started thinking about Red Alert, the book that was both the basis of Failsafe, a worthy but forgettable drama about a nuclear accident, and DR. Strangelove, which was a comedic treatment of exactly the same plot. Kubrick gave us an opportunity to laugh at our fears, and I began to think that maybe I could provide a way for people to laugh at the economic crisis that brought the world to the brink of disaster.

I've always felt that crime dramas are essentially about capitalism, since they show the capitalist idea functioning in its most base form. It's also the only genre where it's completely acceptable that the characters are motivated only by a desire for money. None of this 'family values,' 'follow your dream,' moral compass bullshit.

I saw a film populated by people in pursuit of a buck, who had absolutely no idea how unhappy they were, who found their jobs to be a total drag, who were victim to indecisive, incompetent bosses, anesthetizing themselves with drugs, sex, and alcohol, who never want to look their victims in the eye, and I thought: this has to be a comedy.

I contacted Brad Pitt and explained the basic idea by text; I was trying to gauge his interest before I moved on. I assumed at the time that he had bigger fish to fry and wouldn't be interested in doing a modestly budgeted movie on such short notice, but he responded immediately and 45 minutes later he had not only agreed to do it, but we had a deal hammered out. All that was left to do was notify the agents, call Dede (Gardner), and choose a financier. I actually had one at the time, but this budget for a Brad Pitt movie seemed too good to be true, so he pulled out. Hollywood is a crazy town, and if you try and do someone a favor there, they are likely to run away screaming.

The rest was pretty straightforward. We wanted to shoot a collapsed economy in a state that offered the best rebates. New Orleans seemed more practical than Detroit, so we hired as many of the key principals from The Assassination Of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford as we could, and the best actors who were available, and went there and made a movie. The result is Killing The Softly.
- Andrew Dominik

Producer's StatementAndrew Dominik told me he had found a book written in the 70's that was essentially a crime caper and funny in its dissection of institutions and their failings. He had an idea to set it against the government's bailout plan. Corruption is systemic. It is not a one off. It affects us all and we are all party to it. Put complicity center stage and let's see what happens.

I loved the script from the first word. It is a script that has a deep reservoir of love for what people say and how they say it. Andrew Dominik is only interested in rendering people as they really sound, as they really speak. One would be surprised at what a sense of relief this inspires. Working with this group of actors was like going to a reunion you actually want to attend - it was old home week and yet, full of discovery.

Reuniting with Patti (Norris) was a joy and also a very private and treasured nod to our experience on The Assassination Of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford. Having Patti Norris with us was obviously a boon to the film, and she came up the saviour time and time again. The fact that Andrew Dominik and I even had this opportunity was a surprise - you make Jesse James and you think you will never work again and then the world says otherwise. It's worth a smile at the least.

We were both enormous fans of Greig Fraser's work. Andrew Dominik knew him from Australia and they knew many people in common. He's fearless and a madman and awesome. He stepped into a group of people who knew each other and raised the bar yet again. What more can you ask?

I believe with every fiber of my being that Andrew Dominik is one of the great filmmakers working today. I know this in my bones. Maybe the world agrees in our lifetimes and maybe it does not, but for me, working with Andrew gives definition to what I have chosen to do for a living, to produce. He is a joy - complicated, nonsensical, hilarious, profound - and he is always only about the film. The fact that in the wake of this there is a friendship I cherish is icing on the cake. What I know above all else is that I feel lucky, I have learned and I feel proud. We are older and we are wiser, and we love each other more than we did. What more could one ask of a relationship with another human being?

I think the work speaks for itself. If I learned one thing from Terry (Malick), it's that you already know what you think. What matters is what someone new thinks. That's when what you do, what you have done, is open ended and that's the only reason to keep doing it.
- Dede Gardner

The Actors

Richard Jenkins
"The games are shut down and we have to find out who did it," explains Richard Jenkins, who plays Driver, a lawyer and the go-between with Jackie Cogan, the hit man hired to investigate a heist that went down during a mob-protected poker game. "People won't open the games up if the guys who did it are still on the loose. We have to show them we're serious about this, so we hire Jackie Cogan, who really has made a science out of it," continues Richard Jenkins, on Brad Pitt's role. "He's a pretty smart guy in his way, a lot of street smarts, but because we've never worked with him we're pretty cautious."

"There's a lot of dialogue in the car; it was nice because we didn't have to move around, we just sit there and talk." Richard Jenkins and Brad Pitt spent over a week in a car shooting their scenes together. "We have meetings in the car. It was a great week, a really great week," admits Richard Jenkins. "I love working with him, he's a terrific actor."

When he first read the script, Richard Jenkins found that "the people talk like complicated human beings and not like movie characters." Richard Jenkins first spoke with Andrew Dominik about the part by phone and was drawn to the director's passion for moviemaking. "Andrew Dominik is a creative man, has a lot to say and has found his medium. He's in heaven, and we're right along with him. Andrew Dominik is one of these directors who is not looking for something specific. He watches what you do; he's like the audience. He said, 'I'll watch forever if I'm interested,'" recalls Richard Jenkins.

Richard Jenkins recently worked with producers Dede Gardner and Brad Pitt on Eat Pray Love, and "I remember Brad Pitt talking about Andrew Dominik and how much he loved working with him, so I thought, what am I crazy, I should do this," says the actor.

"Jackie Cogan believes this is not a country, it is a business," suggests Richard Jenkins, who recalls David Mamet's reflections on the current moral climate explored in American Buffalo. "He used to say there's friendship and there's business, and that's kind of what this movie is. It's a business, every man for himself."

Ray Liotta
Andrew Dominik's the kind of guy that no matter how much you have done he needs to hear it and see it," explains Ray Liotta, who auditioned for several parts in the film, but really wanted the role of Markie Trattman. "I'm the nicest guy in this whole mix; I'm the guy who's in charge of the card games, the character who always has a girl on my arm, so everybody basically likes Markie Trattman. It's the reason I wanted to do it…to play a nice bad-guy."

Markie is an obvious suspect when the mob starts pointing the finger after their card game is rolled. "I'm a low level guy, I'm watching the card games and seeing all the money. They don't care if I did it or not, they just need a body so the games can pick up again," explains Ray Liotta.

"They bring down James Gandolfini (Mickey) to take care of me, but he is too busy with his face in a bottle in the movie," laughs Ray Liotta. Ironically, Markie is beat up by two guys he calls on to collect gambling debts, his own "enforcers" are turned on him and "that kind of shocks me and obviously is disturbing. Plus I know what they're gonna do and what they're capable of. So yeah, they beat me up good."

The role was very physical and he knew that Andrew Dominik "definitely goes for realism," that he had a very specific vision in his mind. Ray Liotta wanted to do everything when it came to the fights, and crashing through windows, so his work with the stunt team, lead by Darrin Prescott and Wade Allen was key. "Like I said, before I would always give the punch, but it's a whole other thing to take the punch," admits Ray Liotta. "Stunts taught me how to do that. I was determined to do every bit of it, and in a grueling way it was fun. It was so nice receiving it rather than giving."

Andrew Dominik is as specific with the physical as with the cerebral. "There is a lot of dialogue that has a certain rhythm to it," says Ray Liotta, who has known the director since just after the release of Chopper. "He is a great director, and it's nice to see someone excited about make-believe situations. I have been fortunate enough to work with a few directors who are just passionate about making their vision come to life."

Vincent Curatola
"Johnny Amato never quite made it to the top," explains Vincent Curatola of his character, scheming and barely staying out of jail. "He's a wanna be. He wants to be up there with the big guys; big guys don't work, big guys pull moves off. They may hijack six trucks tomorrow night and can live off that for six years."

"Johnny Amato always feels that the next moment is going to be better than this one." He's got a plan and that's where Frankie, played by Scoot McNairy, comes in. Johnny Amato, who met the young man in prison and sees himself as a mentor, brings Frankie on as the foreman of a job. "I like it when a guy has a character 24 hours a day," recalls Vincent Curatola of his time with McNairy in New Orleans, the film's shooting location. "He would text me, 'boss its Frankie, I'm hungry lets get something to eat…but I don't have any money boss,' the usual. Of course he's kidding," smiles Vincent Curatola. "Scoot McNairy is tremendously focused; whatever you throw at him he catches. He mixes it up and he throws it back at you, not the same as he did before. That's too crafty!"

It's Frankie's partner that has Johnny AMato distracted. "He brings along Russell (played by Ben Mendelsohn), a total human disaster. These two prime packages walk in and I look at them and say, he looks like he just got out of jail. You can imagine what I'm talking about. It's not like I went to Yale and I recruited people for this job." The question is, are they going to be able to pull this off. "That's where the little bit of a thrill comes in," assures Vincent Curatola.

"Jackie Cogan is a character that's really so intent on everything being perfect, he reminds me of a general back in the days of the Roman Empire," observes Vincent Curatola. "It has to be right, and if a guy isn't operating according to him, he's got to go. But Jackie Cogan does it in such a smart way that there's a respect almost for the fact that he can kill ten people and then go have dinner."

Vincent Curatola was drawn to the subtle examination of the human condition, and black humour that he found in Andrew Dominik's script. "The dialogue was so thick it was like studying for priesthood," he jokes. "I come from nine years of working on The Sopranos; we knew our characters so well that when we had guest directors come in, it was like they didn't even touch us. But Andrew Dominik knew the essence of Amato instantly. Working with Andrew Dominik was like your first day at school, and the teacher comes over to you and says, do a multiplication table 4800 times."

Scoot McNairy
Meet Frankie, fresh out of prison, in the midst of the financial crisis and the 2008 presidential election. The world is dilapidated and changed, foreclosure signs everywhere. "Frankie wants a house, wants a car, he wants the girl," explains Scoot McNairy. "He will do anything he can to get those things, and Johnny Amato is the guy with the idea. They concoct this plan, a brilliant idea and the film kinda launches from there."

Scoot McNairy was in Utah when he got the call to come in for a casting session with Andrew Dominik. "He gave me a three-page monologue to memorise," recalls the actor. "I read it all the way through, Andrew said thanks and we said good-bye. My first thought was, 'I just flew all the way from Utah and only get to read it once? Later in the day he asked me to come back, and that night he called to say I'd gotten the part." Over the next month, the two spoke on the phone, and Andrew Dominik shared an original script that was almost 400 pages. "When you read the book it's all lined out for you, it pretty much tells you the entire back-story…and when I had questions about Frankie, Andrew Dominik and I would talk some more."

"Working with Vinny (Curatola) was a trip," recalls Scoot McNairy. "He's great, a really talented guy and a lot of fun. He's like a mob guy, he walks around with a cigar in his mouth and you constantly feel like when you're around him you might get whacked."

Frankie's trigger man, Russell, can't go a day without getting high and Amato has serious doubts about bringing him in on the action. He feels that you just don't want to be in business with a guy like this, regardless if it's a crime or not. "But Frankie needs this job and it doesn't matter; he's thinking, 'let's just go, let's move forward," says Scoot McNairy, as the two miraculously put their plan into action.

"Soon Frankie's got money, he's got cars, and he's got a girl. Everything's going great until a chance meeting in a bar," hints Scoot McNairy. "I told Andrew Dominik that I didn't want to meet Brad (Cogan) until that day, so there was no introduction, no rehearsal, no anything. I'm sitting at the bar and he comes in and we just went right into it. Brad Cogan's definitely working an angle to see what he can get out of me, and Frankie's just in this whirl of thought and unpredictability of what's gonna happen in the next 2 seconds, the next 48 hours. You're watching us meet for the first time in the movie and in real life."

"Andrew Dominik is very intuitive with our thought process while working," says Scoot McNairy. "He just likes it to be this roller coaster of random thoughts coming at you constantly, and it produces these performances that are really organic. Andrew Dominik pushes you and does a lot of takes, but each one is an opportunity within itself."

Ben Mendelsohn
Frankie did time with a guy named Russell, an Australian whose current occupation is the theft of dogs for profit. "His dream is basically to get enough money, to buy enough drugs, to be able to deal and use as much of them as he can," explains Ben Mendelsohn, of the enterprising Russell. "He's not particularly clean physically, mentally, emotionally, or in any way law-abiding clean. He's a stinky, filthy kind of a guy." Or as Andrew Dominik described him to Ben Mendelsohn, "he's a pleasure-seeking pig."

"Neither of them are about to turn around and embrace the traditional American dream of what you can be and work really hard at it," explains Ben Mendelsohn of Frankie and Russell's take on life. "That's not really their thing, but they do take turns looking after each other. Russell got Frankie out of a couple of jams in prison involving how close he wanted to be with some prisoners. They are there for each other as much as they can be, and as far as we know that's as good as it gets for them."

"The dialogue is fantastic and I thought Andrew Dominik did a great job of adapting the book to a screenplay," says Ben Mendelsohn who has a 20 year friendship with the director. "A lot of times you'll get characters talking to each other, both have different things going on and will almost not register or understand what's going on with the people immediately around them. But they do have a very strong view about the way the world is supposed to work."

"The movie is about a heist put together by people who aren't particularly good at it," explains Ben Mendelsohn. It's a comedy about the various interactions and points of view of this criminal world, and the manners and protocol that are supposed to go along with it. What we're trying to do here is conduct business in the face of everything going on around us. Cogan comes in and makes some order of it, but it's not pretty"