Killing Them Softly
Killing Them Softly

By Stephen Gaunson.

“I live here now and I don’t like going home.”
(Andrew Dominik qtd. in Sperling 2012)

“I wouldn’t mind shooting again in Australia but I have no particular Australian story I want to tell right now. America is home at the moment.”
(Andrew Dominik qtd. in Gray 2007: 20)


Australian director Andrew Dominik has three feature films to his credit: Chopper (2000), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) and Killing Them Softly (2012). Having relocated to Hollywood since the underground success of Chopper, he has continued as a writer/director auteur whose cinema essays America as a mythical and suspicious fiction of paranoia and doubt, crime plots and assassins. In the context of American audiences, however, Dominik’s scornful meditations about America’s hypocrisy has caused great trepidation for film funders and distribution companies, for he remains an unsafe bet; and although he likes the reputation of being the hubris outsider, with disastrous box-office openings for his previous two films, this article looks to investigate the circumstances and decisions that has him at a precarious moment of his career.

killing-them-softly-pstr01The most belligerent and antagonistic of all the Hollywood-based Australian directors, Dominik’s films, politically and socially, are dissident attacks on the myth of the American hero, “the idea of Americans needing to believe they’re such a great people. Australians don’t have that problem, it’s not so important to be good or right. I actually don’t understand the need to be morally right” (Dominik quoted in Sperling 2012). Following the contemporary auteur path of 1990s directors such as David O’Russell, Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, Dominik has remained an autonomous filmmaker; and content to spend years developing his independent projects, often to the detriment of his own career.

Through his films one is given an American kaleidoscope that is hard and cynical. Populated by his own cinema characters (Jesse James, Jackie Cogan) and stars (Brad Pitt), Dominik’s America is ethereal – a place that is so obsessed with its own fabled history it is a fiction of paranoia and crime. His narratives essay – like cautionary tales – the ‘real’ ugly America; the America which Cogan (Brad Pitt), in the concluding moments of Dominik’s most recent feature, Killing Them Softly (2012), surmises as “just a business”: “I’m living in America, and in America you’re on your own. America’s not a country. It’s just a business. Now fuckin’ pay me.”

“In America you’re on your own”

Before the mid 1990s Andrew Dominik was Andrew Webb, a privileged Geelong Grammar alumnus alongside Prince Charles and Rupert Murdoch. In 1988 Webb graduated from Swinburne University’s prestigious Film and TV School, having shot two promising shorts – Andrew (1987) and Love in Vain (1989)[1] – both of which screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Why Webb became Dominik is unclear but perhaps the literal meaning of Dominik – “is Lord” – may answer a few questions! Dominik, peculiarly, has no interest in this Webb character, nor his films, with neither short submitted for preservation at the National Film and Sound Archive. Any site dedicated to his filmic oeuvre (IMDb, Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes) only references his feature films. Understandably, some directors want to remove themselves from their former directing paths: Abel Ferrara famously worked under the pseudonym, Jimmy Laine on his porn film 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy (1976).[2] But for Dominik, his shedding of Webb is odd, for his Webb/Dominik personae seems one-and-the-same.

At Swinburne he fashioned a crop of long greasy blond hair, wore dark glasses, looked in need of a good sleep, and was rarely seen without a cigarette. Not much has changed there. With a flair for dark comedy dialogue, from Swinburne he spent the next decade honing his technical skills as a successful rock video director for Australian and New Zealand bands including Crowded House, The Cruel Sea, The Church, Diesel and Down in the Splendour. During this time he also directed a number of stylised television advertisements including his Powerade commercial, which gave him his first exposure into America with the advertisement premiering to more than 100 million viewers during the NFL (National Football League) Super Bowl telecast. This commercial went on to win America’s most coveted advertising award, the Gold Mobius.

Fig 1In 2003, he directed the provocative noir-pastiche commercial “Born Again” for the launch of the Re-Cut 501 Levis. It premiered in Australia on 27 April 2003. Deemed “an inappropriate use of religious imagery, in particular baptism,” it was banned in New Zealand. In the dead of night, a woman meets another woman and two men. She is driven to a lake, strips to her briefs and becomes the subject of a midnight voodoo baptism. The ad cuts to her walking from the river wearing a pair of drenched Re-Cut 501 Jeans. The text appears: “Born Again” “Re-Cut 501 Jeans Men-Women.” The soundtrack is the Wreckery’s haunting 1988 song “Clue to My Desire.”

Beginning with his graduating Swinburne short, Love in Vain (1988) – scored by The Wreckery’s Hugo Race – Dominik has continued to use the music of and collaborate with a close-knit bunch of 1980s post-punk Melbourne musicians, all of whom, at various stages, have been members of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Chopper was scored by Mick Harvey; The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis; Killing Them Softly has no score but uses “I think this town is nervous” by Hugo Race’s The Wreckery. What Dominik shares with his choice of Melbourne musicians is a warped and bombastic festishisation of the American south. Race’s music is certainly influenced by the genre of southern gothic as is Cave whose narratives, moreover, are often located in the setting of a mythical and somewhat lunatic American south – band music: The First Born is Dead (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, 1985), Murder Ballads (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, 1996); film scores: The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; novel: And the Ass Saw the Angel (1989); and, screenplay: Lawless (John Hillcoat, 2012). In location, style and genre, Dominik’s cinema is also drawn to the mythical American south, with some of his slated film projects including adaptations of Cormac McCarthy’s hallucinogenic western novel, Cities of the Plain (1998), and Jim Thompson’s malevolent small-town crime novel, Pop. 1280 (1964).

In spirit (and influence) Dominik’s films are best understood as American – even his very Australian debut Chopper (1999) about the very ocker Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read, a real-life Australian criminal and author of crime novels. For a start, during the opening credit sequence, Frankie Laine’s western rendition of Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In” plays across a running shot of the Pentridge Prison exterior.[3] This popular 1934 folk ballad was indeed the title tune for the 1944 Roy Rogers Hollywood western Don’t Fence Me In, as performed by Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers over its credit sequence. Set up by the opening, Dominik is asking the viewer to think of his film as one informed by the history of American cinema.


Much can be clarified by considering Chopper as a pastiche of the cinema of Martin Scorsese. Most obviously of Raging Bull (1980), for both films are biopics based on self-loathing and self-mutilating men, and both go for a verisimilitude that required its actors to physically balloon into their subjects. Bana’s body was also painted with temporary tattoos to mirror Read’s; however, due to a copyright infringement, the “things go better with coke” marking does not appear (Cherry 2000: 97). However, as Gabrielle Murray rightly notes, Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) is the film that supplied the most influence for both films concentrate on lonely city vigilantes and Dominik even mirrors some of Scorsese’s seminal shots, such as Mark walking down the city street in extreme-slow-motion (Murray 2007: 192). Dominik himself made another link to Taxi Driver by conceding (or perhaps gloating) that it, like Chopper, is not a screenplay that reads well, “yet when you see the film, it’s incredible” (Dominik 2002: 70). Despite Chopper never being an American box-office sensation, as Los Angeles resident Anthony LaPaglia remembers, “every important person in Hollywood saw it” (qtd. in Boland and Bodey 2004: 72) Among these important people were bona fide A-listers – Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise – all showing interest in the director and his screenplay adaptation of Jim Thompson’s 1952 The Killer Inside Me. Dominik wanted Cruise, but when Cruise got cold feet he passed on the option, only to see Michael Winterbottom direct a tepid adaptation (in 2010) from a screenplay by John Curran.


Stylistically and textually, Dominik’s cinema is in direct dialogue with the New Hollywood Cinema of the 1970s and 1980s, with each of his films playing as a pastiche to his favourite filmmakers: Martin Scorsese (Chopper), Terrence Malick (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and Paul Schrader (Killing Them Softly). The synopsis of his student short, Andrew, was promoted as “Wenders-inspired.” Dominik is already explaining his next project, “Blonde”, as David Lynch in style, and a biopic in the spirit of Raging Bull. (Hasn’t he already done that?)

Killing Them Softly
Killing Them Softly

What comes as no great surprise is Dominik’s top ten list, submitted to Sight & Sound, in which he cites the directors who profoundly inform his cinema: Francis Ford Coppola, Terrence Malick, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski. Having befriended Terrence Malick since moving to Los Angeles, Dominik’s choice of personnel on his films is another signpost to the kind of style and directors that he is attempting to pastiche. The casting of actors associated with his favourite directors and films is obvious: Sam Shepard (Days of Heaven, Terrence Malick, 1978) and Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese, 1990). Other screen references, however, are more intricately layered: Costume and Production Designer, Patricia Norris – Days of Heaven, Scarface (Brian DePalma, 1983), Twin Peaks (David Lynch and David Frost, 1990), Lost Highway (David Lynch, 1997) – has worked on his two American films. Then there is Leslie Schatz, sound editor on Dune (David Lynch, 1984), Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998) and Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), and sound mixer on Killing Them Softly. Schatz also worked on Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987), Norman Mailer’s disastrous adaptation of his own novel, in which he recorded Mailer punching himself in the face, after the director insisted it would capture an accurate fidelity of a fistfight. Dominik was apparently so enraptured by the story that Schatz recycled the sounds of Mailer’s punching fists and inserted them into the scene of Markie’s (Liotta) brutal bashing (Murphy 2012).

“Film-making’s a shit fight”

While such stories are deliciously entertaining, for they reveal something of Dominik’s influence, his maverick hubris (Mailer-like) approach to his craft has seen him unnecessarily stall his career by sabotaging relationships with important movie players. No wonder he gravitates to lone outsider characters, at war with the world: Mark Read, Jesse James, Jackie Cogan, with Marilyn Monroe up-next… A “lone wolf lost in a wilderness of arseholes” he would later describe a raging battle with “very confused” script assessors during the drafting of his Chopper screenplay (Dominik 2001: X). Butting heads on all of his films, Chopper’s shoot culminated with him replacing his DOP, Kevin Hayward, with Geoffrey Hall: ‘”we just didn’t like each other […] he was very, very difficult […] film-making’s a shit fight” (Roddick 2000: 15).

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Then on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Dominik famously went to war with distributor Warner Bros. on his initial four-and-a-half hour director’s cut. Warner wanted the film trimmed to two hours. From an exhibitor’s position this makes sense: longer running times mean fewer screenings. Fewer screenings = less revenue. Less revenue = a harder sell for distributors. Producers Brad Pitt, Ridley Scott and Tony Scott edited another version – at two hours – that was not positively received by Warner Bros. nor the test-screening audience. Dominik threatened to sue. Then he threatened to have his name removed from the film. Calming after such histrionics he went back to the editing suite and cut another version down to two-hours-and-forty minutes. This Warner Bros. reluctantly agreed to distribute, albeit in a limited 5 cinema-10 screen US release on 21-23 September 2007. Its opening week was disastrous ($208,386) as was the following week ($129,812).[4] By week five the distribution ramped up with a multiplex exhibition that had the film playing in 301 theatres and an improving box office ($780,782) but not enough to put it close to the black. Its final US box-office gross was catastrophic, reaping a US domestic $3,909,149 from a $30,000,000 budget. Damaged in the process was Dominik’s reputation – mocked as a pretentious megalomaniac for not agreeing to trim the film’s running time. The film’s bombastic title was also blamed for its disappointing box office. (A Clause of Brad Pitt’s contract with Warner Bros. was that the title of Ron Hansen’s novel could not be altered.)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Dominik blamed Warners, and for his next film, Killing Them Softly, the Weinstein Company would handle distribution. On paper this seemed like a much better fit. Founder Harvey Weinstein was indeed the man who backed the edgy films of Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantiono, 1994), Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995) and Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996). Yet, since selling Miramax and forming the Weinstein Company he had become a cautious and conservative player. Dominik wanted the film released during the culmination of the 2012 presidential election; however, Weinstein who had funnelled millions from his own pocket into the Obama campaign, and feared the film could be misread as an anti-Obama slur, stalled the release. Worried of the vitriol that awaited Dominik’s dystopian American nightmare, the film was released with little fanfare during the American post-Thanksgiving weekend – a date notorious as a dumping ground for distributors.[5] Its opening week that had it play in the multiplexes on 2,424 screens pulled in a steady box-office of $9,023,737. Yet the problems were the negative reviews exasperated by an F CinemaScore.[6] By week two the film only pulled in half the previous week’s box-office ($4,108,568) despite playing on the same number of screens. By the third week any initial buzz had died off with the film down to 1,427 screens and a woeful box-office ($1,490,782).

Killing Them Softly
Killing Them Softly

The problem with Killing Them Softly was always going to be the subject matter. Do Americans really want to see fables about how greedy and ugly Americans are? An adaptation of George V. Higgins’s Cogan’s Trade (1974), Dominik updates the tough Boston heist novel to the 2008 presidential campaign. Amplified as a running commentary through television sets and radios, Obama and Bush speak a political cant that seems foreign to its own citizens, or at least the downtrodden crime thugs depicted here. Dominik’s use of Australian DOP, Greig Fraser, became crucial to his dystopian and impoverished America, as was his casting of Ben Mendolsohn as the antagonist wise-arse Russell – speaking in his ocker Aussie mumbling drawl.[7]

In the end, the sales did enough, grossing US$37,930,465 from a US$15,000,000 budget; but not enough to advocate Dominik as a safe bet at the box office. Notwithstanding Chopper being Australia’s highest grossing R-rated film, with only three features to his name, he is yet to deliver a bona fide crowd-pleaser. As he jokes, if not for Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company he would still be in Australia chasing financing for “Chopper: the sequel.” But jokes aside, the problem of his films is their lack of marketability. Considering the financial disaster of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford eventually recouping $15 million through worldwide sales, Killing Them Softly was a curious follow-up. Or more to the point, George V. Higgins was a dangerous author to adapt. Having penned over twenty novels, his only other screen adaptation was The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Peter Yates, 1973). And because that film failed to make a splash at the box-office, Higgins was overlooked in favour of authors, such as Elmore Leonard, whose material had more filmic adaptability and a proven cinema niche. Dominik felt that he had discovered an uncharted goldmine in Higgins’s oeuvre. But perhaps the trepidation that others had for the material should have been warning enough. More ambivalent than Leonard’s smooth talking good guy/bad guy anti-hero, Higgins populates his stories with ugly street-tough hardboiled crims who sacrifice one another in order to keep surviving. (His characters survive more than live.) A criminal lawyer by trade, Higgins was interested in exposing the Boston crime syndicate as a vicious swampland of corrupt and damaged men. His tell-it-like-it-is dialogue is perhaps his great legacy; Elmore Leonard trumpets The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1970) as “the greatest crime novel ever written” (quoted in Higgins 2010: cover).[8]

Killing Them Softly
Killing Them Softly

Higgins’s 1974 follow-up, Cogan’s Trade, includes some of the minor characters from his previous novel in another Boston saga set in the seventies social and political crime syndicate. Dominik hated the title – Cogan’s Trade – reckoning that it reminded him of a “1970s Clint Eastwood film.” The Eastwood film in question is indeed Coogan’s Bluff (1968) – that’s “Coogan,” not “Cogan,” and made in the 1960s, not the 1970s. “Killing them softly” is a line – invented by Dominik – that Cogan uses to describe his squirmish side: “They cry. They plead. They beg […] I like to kill them softly.” As a title, certainly, “Cogan’s Trade,” does seem more in tune with the brief given to the film’s DOP Greig Fraser of creating a style and aesthetic “that might have existed in the seventies” (B 2012: 36) And here is this film’s central problem – more than just the challenges of adapting Higgins. The “might have” is important, for the film purposely avoids a specific place. The milieu – dubbed by the crew as “Shitsville” – and shot mostly in New Orleans, was set in a nameless somewhere, or anywhere, loitering between New Orleans, Boston and Washington DC. The soundtrack that jumps from popular songs of the 1930s – “It’s only a paper moon” (Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards, 1933) and “Life is just a bowl of cherries” (Jack Hylton & His Orchestra, 1931) – to the 1960s – “Wrap your troubles in dreams” (Nico, 1967), “Heroin” (The Velvet Underground, 1964) – and 1980s – “I think this town is nervous” (The Wreckery, 1985) – creates the cacophony of everywhere. Yet the paradox, and mistake of the film, is Dominik very much making this about the moment of the 2008 Presidential election. What results is a very messy narrative that has a specific time without a specific place. Such messiness became the gripe of many commentators:

Killing Them Softly
Killing Them Softly

“There is one desperate, misguided attempt to drag the story toward some kind of contemporary relevance. Even though the cars, the attitudes and the overall griminess of the production design evoke a bygone era, Killing Them Softly unfolds at a specific moment in the recent past, namely the autumn of 2008, when the American financial system spun into crisis in the climactic weeks of the presidential campaign. … It’s a clumsy device, a feint toward significance that nothing else in the movie earns.” (Scott 2012)


Dominik next plans to adapt Blonde, which is the second adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s 2000 historical novel following the CBS 2001 mini-series – Blonde (Joyce Chopra). The mini-series, coincidentally, is also Australian in vision and on-screen imagery: exteriors were shot in the Melbourne suburbs of Collingwood, St. Kilda and Williamstown. Sydneysider, and Marilyn fan, Poppy Montgomery, played the lead. With the book clocking in at 950-pages Dominik cannot cover everything, and with his preference for long fleshed-out scenes, and long takes, what makes it onto the screen will reveal much about what attracted him to the material. When Dominik’s adaptation was first announced, another Sydneysider, and Marilyn buff, Naomi Watts, was reportedly set to star – though at this point, Watts is now unattached to the project and no further casting rumours have surfaced (Adair 2013). Dominik had initially planned to shoot the Marilyn project in 2011, but was forced to shelve it after another Marilyn production was given the green-light by Weinstein: Simon Curtis’s biopic, My Week With Marilyn (2011), with Michelle Williams in the lead.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Blonde will mark a distinct change in tempo for Dominik who has continued to treat women as an extraneous add-on – in favour of his boys clubs. The problem of Dominik’s women is not the casting, for Kate Beacham (Chopper), Mary-Louise Parker (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and Linara Washington (Killing Them Softly) are all good and very capable. The problem, ultimately, is how each character is intentionally rendered flat and only given marginal screen time. That’s true for his first two films at least – what can be said about the wistfully mean-spirited and relentlessly misogynistic Killing Them Softly? In this film, women are not only removed from the drama but mocked, belittled and humiliated. And not limited to the film’s lone female character is the narrative’s disturbing hatred towards women more generally. Used as a default subject for the men to exchange sex stories and mock one another’s manhood, women are only spoken of as objects to fuck and discard. And on only one occasion does a female actually appear on screen. This is a hooker named Honey (Linara Washington) – whose dress Cogan refuses to zip-up – barking an absolute ‘NO’ at her behest. The scene that originates in the novel is equally mean but does, at least, give some explanation: “get your trick to do it” (Higgins 1974). The point: Cogan refuses to involve himself in other people’s business or solicitations. Yet, with this line omitted in the screenplay, his reasons seem more belittling and contemptuous. And the fact that it is the lovable Brad Pitt behaving in this manner makes the moment all the more alarming. While Dominik is obviously drawn to disturbed self-destructive men, women – certainly in the case of Killing Them Softly – should be cautioned to enter at their own peril for they never fare well.

Not that I would suggest for him to manufacture some false female representations: such approaches do nothing but undermine the work, as well as patronise the audience. But what keeps Dominik at a level below his contemporaries – Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, Todd Haynes – is the absence of complex and complicated female characters whose involvement is central to the stories being told. Supporters of Dominik may argue that his choice of genres, thus far, are traditionally the club of boys; and indeed there may be some truth in this: crime and westerns. But what his contemporaries have continued to do is position women in pivotal roles: Sharon Stone in Casino (Martin Scorsese, 1995); Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit (Joel Coen, 2010); Pam Grier in Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997); Jodie Foster in Panic Room (David Fincher, 2002).[9] To imagine the porn industry film, Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997), without Julianne Moore or the Bob Dylan biopic, I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007), without Cate Blanchett is to imagine entirely different films altogether. Although Dominik intends for his next film to be about Monroe – even though funding remains a problem – the concern is not his decision to shift from the boys club genres – but his limitation to not think more deeply about what he can do with women when working within such genres; or how women could give his films greater depth and scope.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

But perhaps this all plays into Dominik’s refusal to sentimentalise his films – perhaps he fears that women could add an emotion that he simply wants to resist. For Dominik, scenes that normally endeavour to provoke strong emotional responses are often filmed in wide-shot (in a bleach bypass effect) with the camera observing more than subjectively involving itself. “Anti-drama” as he describes it (Dominik 2002: 76). Neither Mark’s shooting of Neville (Vince Colosimo) in Chopper, Bob’s (Casey Affleck) shooting of Jesse (Brad Pitt) in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, nor Cogan’s shooting of Markie (Ray Liotta) in Killing Them Softly offer any pathos or empathy. This is not such a problem in moments of sheer violence. Killing is a cold and vicious act that is always depicted by Dominik as such. The problem, indeed, is when he attempts softer moments of guilt such as Bob in the 2007 film confessing to his Omaha prostitute girlfriend, Dorothy Evans (Zooey Deschanel), of why he assassinated Jesse James. Never is the moment dramatized with any emotional effect. Never does Dorothy provoke or challenge him. Instead it is explained in a straight matter-of-fact kind of way. Sitting on a blanket of snow in the woods, and without any pre-empting, the scene starts with her asking “Why?” Bob: “Because he was gonna kill me.” Pondering for a moment longer, he gives a more considered (and expositional) response. Bob: “You know what I expected? Applause. I was only 20-years-old then. I couldn’t see how it would look to people. I was surprised by what happened. They didn’t applaud.” Feeling that more texture was needed, the scene is overdubbed with the narrator adding further: “He was ashamed of […] his boasting, his pretensions of courage and ruthlessness. He was sorry about his cold-bloodedness, his dispassion, his inability to express what he now believed was the case – that he truly regretted killing Jesse, that he missed the man as much as anybody and wished his murder hadn’t been necessary.”

Killing-Them-Softly-2012-Hindi-Dubbed-Movie-Watch-OnlineAlthough this categorically answers ‘why’, as drama it fails to move on any emotional level. Again the conversation returns to what Dominik can do with Oates’s deeply moving exploration of Marilyn Monroe: Can he take his cinema to a richer and deeper place? Can he achieve on screen what Oates achieves on the page? Is such a thing even possible? Is Dominik even capable? I sincerely hope that such questions are answered in the affirmative when/if the project reaches the screen. Nevertheless, what is commendable about this project is Dominik’s endeavour to create a work about his neglect: women. And for his sake, let’s hope it doesn’t become another Swept Away (Guy Ritchie, 2002).

With sincere gratitude to the AFI Research Collection.

Stephen Gaunson is currently Lecturer at the School of Media and Communication of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University).


Adair, Galen (2013), “Reincarnating Marilyn Monroe: Andrew Dominik to Adapt Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde”, Word & Film, 30 May. Accessed 30 May 2013.

B, Benjamin (2012), “Dead Man’s Hand,” American Cinematographer, October, pp. 34-49.

Boland, Michaela and Michael Bodey (2004), Aussiewood, Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Cherry, Mark (2000), “Chopper,” Australian Style, July, pp. 94-97.

Collins, Felicity and Therese Davis (2004), “Lost, Stolen and Found in Rabbit Proof Fence,” Australian Cinema After Mabo, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press: pp. 133-150.

Dominik, Andrew (2001), Chopper, the screenplay, New South Wales: Currency Press Ltd.

Dominik, Andrew (2002), “Chopper: Andrew Dominik,” in Raffaele Caputo and Geoff Burton (eds.), Third Take: Australian Film-makers talk, South Australia: Griffin Press, pp. 67-77.

Gray, Marianne (2007), “Andrew Dominik: Heroes and Villains,” Inside Film, November, pp. 17-20.

Higgins, George V. (1974), Cogan’s Trade, London: Redwood Burn Limited.

Higgins, George V. (2010), Friends of Eddie Coyle, New York: Picador.

Matthews, Jill Julius (2005), “Modern nomads and national film history: the multi-continental career of J. D. Williams,” in Ann Curthoys and Marilyn Lake (eds.), Connected Worlds: History in Transnational Perspective, Canberra: ANU E Press, pp. 157-170.

Murphy, Medado (2012), “Building Sounds for Killing Them Softly”, New York Times, 21 November. Accessed 16 May 2012.

Murray, Gabrielle (2007), “Chopper,” in Geoff Mayer and Keith Beattie (eds.), The Cinema of Australia & New Zealand, London: Wallflower Press, pp. 185-194.

Roddick, Nick (2000), “Ugly (in a nice way),” Sight & Sound, vol . 10, issue 11, November, p. 15.

Scott, A.O. (2012), “One Bad Turn Deserves Another”, New York Times, 29 November. Accessed 11 April 2013.

Sperling, Joshua (2012), “Andrew Dominik on ‘Killing Them Softly, American Cronyism, and the Real Brad Pitt’”, Bulletmedia, 29 November. Accessed 26 April 2013.

Waxman, Sharon (2005), Rebels on the Backlot, New York: Harper.

[1] Andrew Webb and Dorian Lazar share director/producer credits.

[2] Sergio Leone was Bob Robertson on the original prints of A Fistful of Dollars (1964).

[3] Dominik’s initial idea was to use Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as recorded at the Sunbury festival (1972). Thorpe, however, denied such a request wanting no association with the film.

[4]All the box office figures cited in this paper are from Box Office Mojo.

[5] Also released that weekend was The Collection (Marcus Dunstan, 2012), which failed at the box-office – grossing just US$3,104,269.

[6] CinemaScore is a market research firm based in Las Vegas. It surveys film audiences to rate their viewing experiences with letter grades, reports the results, and forecasts box office receipts based on the data.

[7] Greig Fraser has recently collaborated with the following Australian directors on their Hollywood films: Jane Campion (Bright Star, 2009), Scott Hicks (The Boys are Back, 2009) and Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly, 2012). Nash Edgerton also used Fraser on his Bob Dylan film clips, “Beyond here lies nothin’’ (2009) and “Must be santa” (2009).

[8] In homage to Higgins’s novel, Tarantino’s 1997 adaptation of Leonard’s Rum Punch (1992) renames the title character and film from “Jackie Burke” to “Jackie Brown,” the title character of Higgins’s 1970 novel.

[9] And for the record it is something that his classic auteur heroes also achieved: Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954), Forty Guns (Samuel Fuller, 1957), Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950).

3 thoughts on “Hollywood Nomad: Andrew Dominik’s Aussiewood”

  1. This is an excellent, thoughtful, superbly researched piece, and I was with you all the way until I got to this sentence – “but what keeps Dominik at a level below his contemporaries – Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, Todd Haynes – is the absence of complex and complicated female characters whose involvement is central to the stories being told.”

    Only Haynes has done this by any real measure; the other three directors you cite are just as guilty of this oversight as Dominik. Tarantino, Fincher and Anderson — all resolutely “front office” directors, except that Tarantino has excellent taste in other people’s movies — c.f. his admiration for the work of William Witney, among others — don’t belong in the same sentence with Todd Haynes, the only one of these filmmakers who really features any three-dimensional protagonists.

    Haynes’ Safe (1995), for example, is a key film about contemporary American narcissism and self-absorption, with a multi-layered, deeply introspective performance by Julianne Moore in the lead. Far From Heaven (2002) also centers on a female lead, again played by Julianne Moore, rather than her shallow and deceptive husband, and deftly deconstructs the racism of 1950s America. Haynes’ embrace of feminist protagonists deepens with his TV miniseries Mildred Pierce (2011) – so I think he gets the message. And of course, Haynes started with the short film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988), which is deeply sympathetic to its eponymous central character.

    The other three directors you cite are all dull, predictable, and every bit as patriarchal as D.W. Griffith — and just as sexist and retrograde. Tarantino is, among many other things, a misogynist, straight up, no matter how much he tries to dress it up with pomo trimmings; I suppose you would cite Jackie Brown (1997) as an example of a solid female leading role, but in the end, she is just another prop in the film’s narrative.

    Fincher is a cold, distanced, Kubrickian stylist — this isn’t a compliment – who depicts a world devoid of hope or resonance; and Anderson is simply pretentious. To offer up these three multiplex second-raters as the first tier of American commercial filmmaking seems way off the mark; all three treat their female characters, and indeed ALL their characters, as caricatures rather than fully rounded individuals.

    So I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on these three directors, who, as far I can see, bring nothing original or enlightening to the table in any area, and certainly not in the way of “creating complex and complicated female characters whose involvement is central to the stories being told.”

  2. Thanks for the comment Wheeler. I do agree that Haynes is the most interesting of these current American directors – but the others also do provide some complexity to their female characters. Think of Diane Krugar in Inglorious Basterds or (yes) Pam Grier in Jackie Brown. I also think that PTA develops his female characters in interesting ways: Julianne Moore in Magnolia and Boogie Nights or Emily Watson in Punch Drunk Love or Amy Adams in The Master. The problem that I have with Dominik is how he never develops any of his female characters. Rather they float in and out of scenes without any real purpose.
    The reason of comparing Dominik to such directors is how he seems to be going for a similar style and type of contemporary auteur cinema – yet he’s yet to give us a film with a cast of fully developed characters.

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