Countdown to Cannes 2012: Killing Them Softly

Our second look at this year's Cannes film festival titles focuses on Andrew Dominik's crime drama.

The number two slot in our most hotly anticipated films of this year's Cannes film festival goes to Andrew Dominik's third film - following the excellent Chopper, and the beautifully crafted The Assassination of Jesse James... Killing Them Softly, which of course was initially called Cogan's Trade, follows the director's trend of making crime pictures: adapted from George V Higgins' classic 1974 crime novel, the film follows Brad Pitt's enforcer Jackie Cogan who is called upon to clean up after a high-stakes card game is heisted. There is no doubt potential for Driver style stylised hyper-violence, and the tacky rename does imply something more generically crass than we will probably get, but the opportunity to see such a plot through Dominik's own artistic filter is hugely intriguing. I can't resist the parallels with the excellent Ben Affleck project The Town, and indeed this could well be this year's answer to that modern gangster movie, but, dare I say it, there is the capacity here to surpass even the quality of that modern great. Sadly, as of yet, we haven't had access to the Killing Them Softly trailer, but the production stills we have seen so far all point towards a brooding, tough-looking aesthetic perfectly appropriate for the enforcer storyline. And we know it's going to have visual pedigree, thanks to the artistic legacy of The Assassination of Jesse James...

Reasons To Be Excited

The Cast Just as last year was the year of the auteur, this year at Cannes looks like the year of the artist (ironically given the crown jewel of last year's festival line-up) - we have already looked at one exceptional cast for Lawless, and Killing Them Softly has a similarly talented, though slightly more understated pool of talent. Star Brad Pitt is joined by genre veterans Ray Liotta and James Gandolfini, the exceptional Richard Jenkins and the comparatively new talents of Sam Shepard, Ben Mendehlson and Scoot McNairy. It should be Pitt's show, but with names like that backing him up, there is every reason to be excited for some stand-out performances. The Pitt/Dominik Reunion It took me far, far too long to watch The Assassination of Jesse James... as my editor would no doubt tell you, and when I eventually heeded his passionate recommendation, I found a classic revisionist Western, wonderfully visual and expertly hewn by a film-making team obviously in love with their craft. A big part of that success was the relationship between director and actors, and chiefly Brad Pitt, who gave one of his finest modern day performances in a role that challenged him far more than anything else I've seen recently. To see that dynamic realised again on screen will be a great thing indeed. A Dark Role For Pitt Brad Pitt is never better than when playing dark, slightly grotesque characters - see Kalifornia, Fight Club, Jesse James, Twelve Monkeys - and their is something deliciously oxymoronic about seeing a deliciously bad character develop from behind such a beautiful face. If everything goes well with Killing Them Softly, this could be Pitt's finest role in years, blowing the subtle art of his Tree of Life performance away easily. The New Crime Age Films like The Town, Animal Kingdom and Snow Town have reinvented how crime films are perceived and marketed- most were cruelly and wrongly pigeon-holed as pseudo-Gangster flicks in past years, especially those which saturated the British market in the wake of Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, and the vastly inferior copycats of classics like Casino and Goodfellas in the US. Right now, crime is cool - and the stark, no holds barred way in which it is shown on film (and is likely to be in Lawless and Killing Them Softly) gives me a lot of reasons to be excited about the genre again. Check back for Matt's review of Killing Them Softly when it plays in Cannes in the coming weeks.

WhatCulture's former COO, veteran writer and editor.