KILLING THEM SOFTLY
By Andrew Dominik
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 THE FRIENDS OF EDDY COYLE failed to make a splash at the box-office, and here was a potentially untapped treasure trove of material. I ordered about ten of the books from second-hand booksellers and read them as they arrived in my mailbox. "Cogan's 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 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 choosea 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 THEM SOFTLY.
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