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Andrew Dominik Talks The Anger Of 'Killing Them Softly', Downplays The "Mythical" Long Version of 'Jesse James'

Interviews
by Drew Taylor
November 27, 2012 12:30 PM
10 Comments
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Andrew Dominik, Killing Them Softly

When Australian director Andrew Dominik and ultra-handsome super-star Brad Pitt last teamed up, it was for "The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford," a brilliant, elliptical ode to the old west and one of the very best movies of the past decade. Five very long years later, the pair have reteamed for "Killing Them Softly," which opens this weekend and, as it turns out, is just as brilliant as their previous collaboration. A scabrous, pitch-black crime saga about a gangland robbery gone very, very wrong (here's our original review from Cannes), aside from Pitt, the picture features an all-star cast which includes Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn ("The Dark Knight Rises"), Scoot McNairy ("Argo") and Sam Shepard.

We recently talked to the filmmaker about the movie's anger, the legendary "director's cut" of 'Jesse James,' working with Ridley and the late Tony Scott, hiring Brad Pitt via text, how the Maysles Brothers influenced 'Softly,' and why his latest film is slightly more "bubblegum" than the picture's he's made previously.

And thankfully, we hopefully won't have to wait five more years for his next film, the Marilyn Monroe picture, "Blonde" starring Naomi Watts. Dominik tells us he aims to shoot it next year, it's going to be Polanski-esque, and describes it as a "emotional, nightmare fairy tale." We can't wait. For more Dominik, check out our earlier, in-depth interview with the director from Cannes in May.

People describe this as an "angry" movie. Is that how you see it?
Yeah. I felt angry at the time of conceiving it.

What were you angry about?
About how the whole world revolves around the dollar. It's easy to feel when you're in Hollywood. Especially when your last movie didn't make a nickel.

"Look, [Brad Pitt's and my] relationship was intense, but everyone's intentions were fantastic with 'Jesse James.' It could get testy between us all but we all really liked each other."
We'll get to that. There was talk that you had cut a fairly significant portion of "Killing Me Softly" right before it premiered at Cannes…
I cut about seven minutes out of it, based on a test screening. I think most of those seven minutes were good cuts. There was one that I think, 'Well maybe I shouldn't have cut that.' But you get to the point where it all gets a bit murky. Nothing that I regret, really.

Do you plan on reinstating that stuff?
No. It's gone forever. It'll appear on the DVD maybe.

You've worked with Pitt twice now. How did he come to this one and were you at all surprised given the long, arduous process of getting 'Jesse James' to the screen?
Look, our relationship was intense, but everyone's intentions were fantastic with 'Jesse James.' It could get testy between us all but we all really liked each other. And we always had to deal with Warner Bros.' disappointment with the film, which tended to bond us. We kind of came out of it as friends with a great respect for each other. That didn't necessarily mean that Brad wanted to get involved in anything that I was doing. But this one resonated with him, for some reason. How he got involved was I had pitched this story to some financiers and they really liked it and I realized I could actually make this thing happen. And I sent Brad the book and I hadn't heard anything from him because he was knee-deep in 'Moneyball.' I was trying to get myself an actor attached over the weekend so I sent him a text to make sure he wasn't interested and it turned out he was. So we exchanged a series of texts about what the deal would be, how many weeks he'd be needed, and from that point forward he was on. This was before there was even a screenplay. That's how it happened.

Killing Them Softly
Did it surprise you at all that a movie star of his wattage was willing to sign on to a project this cutting?
Yeah, I was surprised at the time because I just thought,'He doesn't have the head space for this.' And I didn't know if it was the kind of thing he wanted to do. I remember at the time he was talking about the kind of characters he was looking to play and Jackie was kind of the complete opposite, since Jackie is just a prick, really. But that was the attraction for Brad.

How did you get Sam Shepherd to come in and do that one scene?
Well we got along really well on 'Jesse James' and we keep in touch. About once a year I'll get a phone call from Sam or I give him a call and I needed somebody because [his character] Dylan is someone who is talked about all through the picture and you're going to see him this one time. So I wanted to get somebody recognizable to do a cameo. And that's how I presented it to Sam. I think he was in New Orleans at the time so he just drove over and did a day's work as a favor, basically.

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10 Comments

  • DavidDavidName | December 3, 2012 3:56 PMReply

    I think its day will come om Criterion. Might have to wait 20 - 30 years. They don't always do super-fantastic on the contemporary (American) stuff.

  • [A] | December 1, 2012 10:26 AMReply

    If you loved that film, you definitely don't call it "TAOJJBTCRF"

  • [A] | December 1, 2012 10:26 AMReply

    "C'mon, people adore that film" ~Yes we do.

  • Jesse James Fan | November 28, 2012 10:30 PMReply

    Oh man, i NEED Criterion to put this out.

  • Rocky | November 27, 2012 11:16 PMReply

    The Assassination of Jesse James is one of the most affecting films of the past decade. It deserves to have a release on DVD that merits its genius.

  • mike_m | November 27, 2012 3:23 PMReply

    Really Hope Criterion gives the love the Jesse James it deserves, such a fantastic release and WB did such a shitty job on the Blu-ray.

  • REal | November 27, 2012 1:35 PMReply

    It's astounding how underrated "Jesse James" still is. It is one of the greatest films made in years but it feels like it really is going to be one of those sad cases where it will take an age before it receives the true recognition it deserves.

  • yer | November 27, 2012 3:02 PM

    TAOJJBTCRF is my second favorite film of the 2000s. It's a shame how underrated it is.

  • JD | November 27, 2012 2:17 PM

    If you read the mixed/negative reviews of Jesse James, you'll find that even those who didn't like the film saw all the same things the fans saw. It's not like the film is too complex to grasp, it's just presented in a way that is irritating to some people. I love it, but I also recognize that plodding narrative, deliberate pacing, anonymous narration, and self-important music isn't for everyone.

  • lookfar | November 27, 2012 12:52 PMReply

    The way he manages Jesse James to feel intensely real and simultaneously mythic makes it one of the best films made in ages. People will realize how good it is eventually.

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