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Killing Them Softly: Screening Reaction

Brad Pitt always brings something to Cannes – be it Angelina Jolie, hoards of paparazzi or legions of fans.

So you could sense the anticipation for the 8.30am screening of Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly , as Pitt reunites with the director who so beautifully framed him in The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford .

Last time Pitt was in competition in Cannes, he gave a career best turn in Terrence Malick's Palme d'Or winner The Tree Of Life , and the time before that he carved a Swastika in Christoph Waltz’s head in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds .

This time, as no-nonsense mob enforcer Jackie Cogan, hired to root out two chancers (Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn) who rob a high-stakes gambling den run by Ray Liotta’s crook, he’s leaving his mark on just about everyone in town.

Call it this year’s Drive if you like, but Killing Them Softly is the most striking crime flick of 2012, updating George V. Higgins’ 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade to include the backdrop of the 2008 US elections and economic meltdown. Some of Dominik’s shots are pure poetry – brave, breath-taking, beautiful sequences that leave the jaw hanging.

If the reaction to the screening afterwards was somewhat mixed – the story is rather thin, the violence horrific and James Gandolfini’s ageing, booze-addled hitman an awkward creation – this still has the feeling of a modern-day Point Blank .

Dominik is never less than thoughtful; much like Jesse James, you will find low-key philosophising about the moment before the act of murder.

As for Pitt, hair slicked back, dressed in a leather jacket and brandishing a pump-action shotgun, it’s a lean, mean turn – destined for similar cult status to his Tyler Durden from Fight Club .

Big claim? Maybe. But this is Brad at his coolest, and for those who yearn for the glory days of 1970s US cinema, this feels like a wonderful throwback.

James Mottram

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.