Andrew Dominik's gangster movie "Killing Them Softly" has been interpreted by Cannes reviewers as being about the failures of capitalism, an attack on America and a slap at the failed promise of Barack Obama's presidency — but at a Cannes press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Brad Pitt insisted that only part of that is true.
Viewers are wrong to read anti-Obama sentiment into the movie because of the way it juxtaposes his optimistic Democratic National Convention speech of 2008 with a landscape of greed and violence, he said.
The footage, he said, was used not "as a cynical look back at a statement of failure, but as a real expression of hope."
But Pitt (left, with Dominik), who added that he was in Chicago the night Obama was elected, did admit that there's more to the movie than a story about gangsters, money and murder. At the end of the film, he said, viewers who initially thought it was a straightforward gangster movie will realize that "Killing Them Softly" is "saying something about the larger world."
Specifically, added New Zealand director Dominik, the film is a hard look at the American economic system, from Wall Street to Hollywood.
"I always feel that crime films are about capitalism, because it is a genre where it is perfectly acceptable for all the characters to be motivated by a desire for money," he said.
"In some ways, the crime film is the most honest American film," he added, "because it portrays Americans as I experience a lot of them, in Hollywood, as being very concerned with money."
Dominik adapted his film from George V. Higgins' "Cogan's Trade," a novel set in 1974. He updated the setting to 2008, with the financial collapse an omnipresent specter and Obama's (and John McCain's) optimistic speeches used as counterpoint to a time in which things were going very wrong.
TheWrap's Sasha Stone was far from the only reviewer who saw larger political messages in the movie.
The film, wrote Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeff Wells, "persistently and rather curiously pushes concurrent political commentary about the '08 financial collapse, Obama, hope, cynicism, ruthlessness and American greed." He later called it "an 'Obama's rhetoric is full of shit' crime movie."
Wrote Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter, "Dominik explicitly articulates his intended meanings, which have to do with money, institutional rot and what happens when you don’t keep your economic house in order."
And The Los Angeles Times called it "arguably the first post-Occupy film — or, perhaps, what the documentary 'Inside Job' might look like if It was a fictional feature."
Of course, all the talk about politics, partisanship and metaphors can only go so far when you're dealing with a star like Brad Pitt. The headline on Radar's coverage of the press conference, for example, cut right to the point:
"Brad Pitt Says There Is No Wedding Date While at Cannes Film Festival."