Cannes Day 8: Killing me softly

Brad Pitt is here. He plays Jackie Cogan, the typically violent and fashionably cheeky hitman in "Killing Them Softly". The film is so stylised that you thought the director, Andrew Dominik, was actually trying to impress Jean-Paul Gaultier, who sits on Cannes' jury this year. Each murder, by Cogan mostly, is designed to its nano-second detail, with every shard of bullet-shattered glass visible in its fatal, mid-air flight. Amidst the killings and score-settling, Barack Obama, on TV, campaigns for new America and the soundbites constantly tell us how badly the economy is doing. "Killing Them Softly" is a film that's so conscious about its cleverness that it seems less clever eventually, and one of the clever messages it constantly reminds us is summed up in Cogan's last sentence: "America is not a country, it's a business." I wonder if Quentin Tarantino could've made it more subtle, and more comical.

In a weak year of the Competition titles, "Killing Them Sofly" tries valiantly but doesn't really succeed in rallying the mood as Cannes enters its final four days. It's a hitman movie in the sub-Tarantino mode, especially when the killers seem to prefer talking and wisecracking to murdering; the title comes from the fact that Cogan detests killing his victim in close-up because of the emotional baggage that comes with it, and he'd rather do it, if not softly, then at least from a distance. The director, Andrew Dominik, is a New Zealander who impressed with his previous film, the arthouse Western "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford", which also stars Pitt. The new film is an exhibit of neat craftsmanship and the desire to stretch a familiar story into to contemporary relevance, but it's the performances -- Pitt's, Richard Jenkins's, James Gandolfini's -- that keep me fairly glued.

What really picked up the mood of the exhausted journalists was Leo Carax's "Holy Motors", a bizarre road trip and cinephilic puzzle presided over by the monstrously attractive Denis Lavant. We'll have a full story tomorrow in the paper and also on the website; for now, I'll only say that I'm pretty certain Jean-Paul Gaultier will be impressed by the devilishly stylish, neo-Gothic film. Lavant, the French actor whose appearance is that of a small planet with condensed gravity, is now the frontrunner of the Best Actor prize; Brad Pitt should also be shortlisted, and also Mads Mikkelsen from the Danish film "The Hunt". But if Lavant really wins, the cries of joy will be deafening.

I'm pretty sure Garrett Hedlund will not win the Best Actor trophy, but boy, he tries. Hedlund plays the vagabond prophet Dean Moriarty in the adaptation of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road", directed into the movie by Brazillian Walter Salles. Hedlund leads a gang of proto-hippies and plunges them into the years of living dangerously (or fashionably dangerous, in the modern context), brandishing Proust like the Scripture and hitting the road of post-war America. What's strange is that "On the Road" spends less time on the road than in houses and rooms, and the ambitious attempt to film this American classic leaves much to be desired.  "On the Road" also stars Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst. Again, the full story comes tomorrow, so stay tuned.

About the author

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Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Deputy Life Editor