Awards Profile: Killing Them Softly

Directed by: Andrew Dominik
Written by: Andrew Dominik

Cast: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Sam Shepard, Garret Dillahunt, and Slaine

Synopsis (from Coming Soon): Adapted from George V. Higgins novel and set in New Orleans, “Cogan’s Trade” (now entitled Killing Them Softly) follows professional enforcer, Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), who investigates a heist that occurs during a high stakes, mob-protected, poker game. The film also features Scoot McNairy (“Monsters”), Ben Mendelsohn (“Animal Kingdom”), Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”), with James Gandolfini, Vincent Curatola, Max Casella, Sam Shepard and Bella Heathcote among others.

As a bonus, here’s what the synopsis is for the book: A hard-hitting, tour-de force tale of the mob and the man who makes sure their rules are the only rules, by the American master of crime George V. Higgins.

Jackie Cogan is an enforcer for the New England mob. When a high-stakes card game is heisted by unknown hoodlums, Cogan is called in to “handle” the problem. Moving expertly and ruthlessly among a variety of criminal hacks, hangers-on, and bigger-time crooks—a classic cast of misfits animated by Higgins’s hilarious, cracklingly authentic dialogue—Cogan gets to the root of the problem and, with five consecutive shots from a Smith & Wesson thirty-eight Police Special, restores order to his corner of the Boston underworld.

Combining his remarkable wit and a singular ability to show criminal life as it is lived, George V. Higgins builds an incredible story of crime to an unforgettable climax.

Why It Could Succeed:
Ever since filmmaker Andrew Dominik’s 2007 film ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’, a good portion of the film community has been waiting to see what he did next. Now, 5 years later we have the crime thriller adaptation of the George V. Higgins novel ‘Cogan’s Trade’, retitled to be now called ‘Killing Them Softly’. Dominik is such a strong talent that no matter what he decided to do next, we’d be looking at it as an awards contender. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he recruited Brad Pitt to work with him again and take the lead role here. Dominik and Pitt are the main selling points on this flick, as it’s a likely mainstream effort, but one with lots of potential. If Dominik’s direction is as top notch as it’s been previously, he could easily elevate the movie to something awards worthy. Pitt’s been on a bit of a winning streak himself, and the projects he’s choosing now are automatically going to be up a little higher on a prestige related pedestal than previously. He’s going to have charisma to spare and likely some good scenery to chew as well, so it’s folly not to assume that Pitt will be a big contender this year. Dominik could be the next Terrence Malick, so with the Oscar voters having embraced ‘The Tree of Life’, it’s not hard to imagine them now going for Dominik’s work in a way that they didn’t half a decade ago with ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’. The ingredients are all in place for something that could really be a hit, both critically and commercially. It won’t be the most likely nominee, but it could perhaps wind up being one of the best if things break the right way for the film.

Why It Could Fail:
For all of Dominik’s talent and Pitt’s strong choices of late, this seems a bit more of a pulp story than the Academy normally jives towards and a stretch for them to fully embrace. It’s also potentially another of the 2012 contenders that could be more in line to make money than win and be up for awards. It’s also worth considering that if ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’ couldn’t make major headway with Oscar, it’s probably somewhat doubtful that ‘Killing Them Softly’ can become a major player. It doesn’t help that the title is incredibly generic (not that ‘Cogan’s Trade’ was so much better, but this one sounds vaguely like your average direct to DVD title) and the novel that the film is based on doesn’t seem like typical awards fodder. I think that Dominik is an acquired taste, and I’m not sure that voters will instinctively follow Pitt wherever he goes just yet, so this could be a harder sell than the film can handle being. It could turn out that I’m underestimating the work, but I’m inclined to think that many other contenders this year will have a far better chance at gold than this one. It’s a wild card to be sure, but one that could be far more likely to fail in terms of the Academy Awards than it is to succeed there.

Awards Speculation:
Most of the chances for this film to get recognized center around Andrew Dominik and Brad Pitt (a continuing theme here), though a few tech categories are certainly in play. Best Picture could be potentially a nomination for the taking if the film makes a decent amount of money and acquires the type of reviews that their previous works have accrued. Best Director or Adapted Screenplay could be a way of rewarding Dominik for his work to date (or this film, if it’s good enough), and something like Best Cinematography or Best Film Editing are definitely worth discussing. For my money, Best Actor is likely the best chance that ‘Killing Me Softly’ has of getting any real recognition (Adapted Screenplay being the second most likely). If Pitt knocks it out of the park, the Academy could definitely look to come back to him for another nomination, and perhaps even a win this time. There’s also the possibility of some sort of Supporting Actor nod for either Ray Liotta or Richard Jenkins, and maybe even someone like Scoot McNairy could come out of nowhere, but it seems like a bit of a long shot from where I am currently. I’m not especially confident of this film’s Oscar chances, but it’s a major release with a lot going for it, and you can’t ignore it when discussing contenders this year. Stay tuned to see how it ultimately turns out for the flick…

The film opens in theaters on September 21st, 2012 and will be distributed by The Weinstein Company.

Oscar Potential:
Best Picture
Best Director (Andrew Dominik)
Best Actor (Brad Pitt)
Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, or Scoot McNairy)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Andrew Dominik)
Best Cinematography
Best Film Editing

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