It’s been five long years since Andrew Dominik’s acclaimed, haunting The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, starring Brad Pitt as the famous outlaw and Casey Affleck as his assassin. The New Zealand–born, L.A.-based director’s new film, Killing Them Softly, takes a more contemporary tack. Set during the 2008 election, the movie coldly observes the fallout when a pair of hapless crooks (Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy) rob a poker circle. Brad Pitt plays the hit man assigned to clean up the mess. The film repeatedly draws parallels to the financial crisis; according to Dominik, 44, who chain-smoked through our interview at Cannes, Pitt’s character acts as the regulator who should have stepped in in real life.
Why did you highlight the parallel between the financial crisis and the criminal world?
Because I don’t really see the biggest difference between them. When men organize themselves into groups, and they make rules based on common or self-interest, it’s always tangled and political.
Between this and Jesse James, you have two different critiques of American mythology. What drew you to that?
Luck. Jesse James is just a book that I found that I fell in love with. For me, it’s [a movie] about depression and anxiety. This film is a little different, and it just happened the same kind of way. I found [George V. Higgins’s 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade, of which this movie is an adaptation,] not setting out to say things about America.
It’s a grimy film—you’re not overwhelmed with beautiful shots, like in the last one.
I just kind of thought, Oh, I should shoot it like screwball from, like, the ’40s. I’ve got long dialogue scenes. I can shoot the shit out of it or I can just, like, pick two images and let the actors do the work, you know what I mean?
One of the interesting things is how subdued Brad Pitt is—he’s usually more charismatic.
The whole idea is that crime is not glamorous. It’s just a job. It’s a grind, it’s a pain in the ass. I really just wanted it to be like guys talking about some problem at work. Not to play it like anything we’re doing is glamorous.
Killing Them Softly opens October 19.