Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan, freelance mob hitman
Boston*, November 2008
* The movie – like the source novel – was indeed set in the Boston area but was filmed in New Orleans.
Although it met with mixed reviews, fans of George V. Higgins appreciate the recent film version of his 1974 book Cogan’s Trade, released as Killing Them Softly based on a line from the novel’s titular protagonist, Jackie Cogan:
They cry. They plead. They beg. They piss themselves. They call for their mothers. It gets embarrassing. I like to kill ’em softly, from a distance. Not close enough for feelings. Don’t like feelings. Don’t want to think about them.
Cogan, a mob hitman by trade, is portrayed by Pitt who manages to make Cogan both ruthless and likable. The film, although some cars and clothes are nods to the original 1974 publication, was updated to parallel the current state of the U.S. economy, set against the backdrop of the 2008 presidential elections. This parallel drew many of the complaints leveled at the film, but it is still a stylistic and darkly comedic interpretation of Higgins’ novel.
For anyone unfamiliar with George V. Higgins, he was an ex-prosecutor who began writing crime fiction in 1970 with one of his most famous works, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Higgins relied on his law profession to write with a realism unlike any of its genre predecessors. The dialogue particularly stands out in his books, including the great line from Jackie Cogan himself in Cogan’s Trade:
He’s as soft as a sneaker fulla shit.
The film subtly takes on an Archer-like ambiguity with its setting. Although clearly taking place in November 2008, Cogan looks like he could’ve walked straight out of 1974 with his black leather jacket, his black Toronado, and his non-PC badassery.
Killing Them Softly was also one of the seven films that James Gandolfini acted in during the last two years of his life, and he turns in a terrific performance as a washed-up alcoholic hitman, Mickey.
What’d He Wear?
The most obvious thing about Cogan’s style is the abundance of black. From his jacket to his boots to his car, everything is black. This was not unintentional, as you could imagine. In November 2012, GQ magazine spoke with the film’s costumer designer, Patricia Norris, who explained:
I always thought of his character as a shadow. He’s not terribly noticeable, which is a hard thing to say about Brad Pitt. He’s a guy who walks into a bar without drawing attention to himself, because that’s not what hitmen do. So I kept him in that color… With the black-on-black, he can hide in an alleyway or disappear into a crowd, and no one will be thinking, “Gee, who’s that good-looking guy over there?”
Cogan, though affable and talkative, is an enigma. Thus, he wants to get in and out quickly and unnoticed. What better way to remain in the shadows than to wear black-on-black? Not much description is given of Cogan’s attire in the book, only making mention of a pilled suede car coat and a pair of unlined leather gloves.
Interestingly, Pitt wore much of his own wardrobe, which leads me to wonder if he doesn’t take on some contracts in his spare time. Think about how bittersweet it would be to find out you were marked for assassination, and then it turns out Brad Pitt was hired to kill you. Would you ask for an autograph first?
The most notable item of Pitt’s that was borrowed for his role of Jackie Cogan is his black leather jacket. The jacket was so unique that Norris tried to find replicas of it in New Orleans but to no success. According to her:
There were no other jackets that looked great and said a lot. They just seemed precious next to whatever was going on and wouldn’t leave him alone… We simply talked for two minutes on the phone before I saw him, just about the shadow idea and the black-on-black. We didn’t know it at the time – because I had other jackets picked out – but he had already been wearing the one we’d use all along.
So what about the jacket made it so worthy of inclusion in the film? Norris certainly has a point when she calls leather jackets “precious”. Pitt’s well-worn example still looks good and, being his own, he is comfortable in it, almost unaware of just how cool it looks. Supposedly, he had picked it up around 2004 or 2005, so it had gone through seven years of solid wear before he brought it to the production of Killing Them Softly. Internet rumors claim the jacket was designed by Martin Mangela, but I can’t confirm this as factual.
It certainly is a unique jacket. It’s not the usual zip-front, nor is it a standard blazer. It buttons down the front with four black buttons, extending just past the waist. There are camp collars and plenty of detailed stitching, with seams down the rear, Western-style shoulder yokes, and double-pointed rear shoulder yokes. There are plain cuffs, with neither snap not button tabs, keeping the jacket simple and sleek-looking. There is a large patch pocket on the right side and a vertical side pocket on the left.
You can buy a supposed replica of the coat for $150 at Leathers Club, but I haven’t ordered it so I can’t comment on its authenticity. It certainly looks more like the jacket than anything I’ve been able to find though.
Under the jacket, Pitt’s standard shirt is a black v-neck short-sleeve t-shirt, purchased by Norris while filming on location in New Orleans to keep the look simple but familiar to Pitt. This was intentional, according to Norris:
When you’re working with someone as good as Brad in this type of role, the clothes that the actor’s most comfortable in work best; that way, the character won’t look self-conscious.
The soft cotton shirt has a very moderate v-neck, unlike the “deep v” preferred by that asshole guy drinking vodka and red bull at the club. You know who I mean.
The trousers, a pair of heavy black flat front slacks with seams down the sides, belt loops, and plain-hemmed bottoms with a full break, were also purchased in New Orleans by Norris. They are worn with a thick black alligator leather belt, fastened in the front with a squared gold single-prong buckle.
When dressing up for a night at the bar, Cogan ditches the t-shirt and goes for a button-up shirt. Both of Cogan’s button-up shirts, including the dark charcoal one he wears when meeting Mickey and the dark blue one when meeting his driver, are long-sleeve with large spread collars and plain, placket-less fronts. They are a lightweight material that is very prone to wrinkling. The shirts fasten at the cuffs with a single button, but Cogan prefers to wear the sleeves rolled up to his elbow, even under his jacket.
Cogan meets his driver (played by a very dryly fun Richard Jenkins here) in the last scene wearing a black-on-black tonal striped 6-button vest. The vest – or waistcoat, you Brits – has a notched base, but the bottom button is worn unfastened anyway. There are two welted lower pockets.
Supposedly, the large black leather boots worn in the film are also Pitt’s personal footwear. They are plain with no laces and slightly raised heels. The top of the boots rise up the calf.
Cogan wears plenty of accessories, all gold. The first time we see him, we also see his sunglasses, a pair of gold-framed rimless aviators with squared amber-gradient lenses and straight frames. I’m not sure who the manufacturer or designer is, but Pitt has a tendency to wear Oliver Peoples, so this may be their doing.
His watch is all-gold, with a lightweight band and a squared case and face.
Cogan doesn’t skimp on jewelry, with a diamond gold pinky ring on his right hand and two thin gold necklaces worn under his shirts.
The hair is also worth mentioning too. Since Pitt is on a different playing field than the rest of us mortals, he is able to comb his long hair back without looking like an ’80s prepster, as well as pairing it with a goatee. Costume designer Norris explains it perfectly:
That’s how Brad wanted to be. He was very happy with that. He had that look already and we tweaked it a bit, but that’s what he felt comfortable with. I thought it was nicely sleazy.
Before moving ahead with the Jackie Cogan hair, trim your beard (if you plan on shaving it), into a goatee. Ask your girlfriend if she thinks you look like Brad Pitt. Her answer will tell you if it’s worth attempting a goatee.
Go Big or Go Home
Cogan is more complex than the usual mob hitman, even by Higgins’ standards. He is cool, assertive, and professional without being uptight. As a fellow “Man in Black”, Johnny Cash was an obvious choice for Cogan’s introduction song. Appropriately, given his character’s profession, “The Man Comes Around” was chosen to introduce the audience to Jackie Cogan.
Norris comments on this:
I think it’s a correlation of convenience. Andrew Dominik and I always talked about the music that would be used, but I never thought about the character from the music.
Dominik – the director in case you didn’t know – retains Cogan’s preferences from the book, keeping him a beer drinker, a cigarette smoker, and an Olds Toronado driver. There are, however, a few differences in the translation from page to screen.
Even Cogan’s car is black, and – of course – it is a badass one. Cogan drives a 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado coupe, almost definitely a reference to the silver Toronado (with a black vinyl roof and “Hydramatic” automatic transmission) from the book. The difference is that, in the book, this was the car that Cogan was chauffeured in by the mob driver Albert.
As a surprising (in this era) but refreshing choice, Dominik doesn’t change Cogan’s smoking habits from Higgins’ book. He does, however, change Cogan’s preference of cigarettes from Salem Menthols to Parliament Lights, lighting up with a gold Dunhill-style lighter. It’s possible that this change was a result of the filming location; when I was in New Orleans last April, everyone smoked Parliament Lights. I don’t know what the cigarette of choice is in Boston as the last time I was there I was four years old.
Perhaps as a nod to its reputation for durability, a Nokia “candybar”-style cell phone finds its way into Cogan’s pockets. The Nokia 3310 has gained a modern cult following as an “indestructible” phone, even with an Internet meme celebrating it. This was likely not Dominik’s intent, but Cogan’s roughness and ability to survive in a film where nearly everyone else has died doesn’t differ from the Nokia legacy.
What to Imbibe
Cogan is a beer guy all the way, drinking standard American lagers. In the film, he drinks both Budweiser and Michelob Lager. Note that he drinks Michelob Lager and not Michelob Ultra, the latter of which is for underage sorority girls or slightly overweight mothers of two who think they’ve still got it.
He also drinks Michelob Lager in the book, but the film replaces the literary Heineken with Budweiser. At the time Higgins wrote Cogan’s Trade, Heineken was the epitome of a classy gentleman’s beer, preferred by JFK and even mentioned by Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail:
Heineken? Why it’s the finest beer in the world! President Kennedy used to drink it!
Of course, the beer had a different reputation 13 years later when Dennis Hopper mentioned it in Blue Velvet:
Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!
As a hitman, Cogan uses plenty of firearms to achieve his kills. He cycles through several throughout the film, including a Browning Hi-Power semi-automatic pistol, a Smith & Wesson .38 snubnose, and a Mossberg 500 Cruiser shotgun, with the latter receiving attention today.
The first hit we see Cogan carry out is on Markie Trattman, the troubled gambler. In the book, Cogan uses a “.30-06 Savage semi-automatic rifle” during a drive-by to achieve his kill. The film opts for a handgun, giving Cogan a Browning Hi-Power, a Belgian 9 mm semi-automatic designed in the 1920s and 1930s and still in use by many agencies today. I myself have a 1975 model, and it is one of the most reliable firearms I’ve ever had my hands on. The sequence is very stylistic, in slow motion with heavy focus on the pistol as it chambers and fires each round.
Cogan’s carry piece appears to be a blued Smith & Wesson Model 36 “Chief’s Special” snubnose .38 Special revolver with a 2″ barrel. He keeps this in his rear waistband, using it for his final kill of the film. This one is pretty much straight from the book, which described a “Smith & Wesson thirty-eight Police Special, two-inch barrel… revolver.” The Model 36 is ubiquitous in films, often in the hands of plainclothes detectives or mobsters, such as the guys from Goodfellas.
Finally, for Cogan’s hit on Johnny “The Squirrel” Amato, he packs a Mossberg 500 Cruiser. The Cruiser is an interesting variation of the standard 12-gauge Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun, as it is a factory-made “sawed-off” shotgun with a pistol grip, carrying seven rounds of 3″-chambred 12-gauge shells in the under-barrel tubular magazine. The barrel length is typically 20″, just over the legal 18″ length for shotguns, with synthetic pistol grips and a blued finish. Some models have a heat shield over the barrel, but Cogan’s does not.
Cogan also outfits his Mossberg with a Surefire 323 series foregrip and a LaserLyte ADP-TRIR-140 tri-rail adaptor fitted to the magazine tube. These show that Cogan is a professional who knows exactly what he wants for his firearms.
Cogan did indeed carry a shotgun for the Amato hit in the book, but it was a “five-shot Winchester semi-automatic shotgun”. The Mossberg wasn’t nearly as popular in 1974 as it is now, so the updated weapon is a very practical choice for the film’s setting.
How to Get the Look
Be a Man in Black. You’ll make Johnny Cash and Jackie Cogan proud.
- Black leather jacket with camp collar, 4-button front, right patch pocket, left side pocket, Western-style yokes, and detailed stitching
- Dark lightweight button-up long-sleeve shirt with large collar, plain front, and rolled-up button cuffs
- Black-on-black tonal striped vest with 6-button front, notched base, and 2 welted lower pockets
- Black soft cotton v-neck short-sleeve t-shirt
- Black flat front trousers with belt loops, open side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms on a full break
- Black plain leather calf boots
- Black alligator leather belt with a squared brass 1-eyelet clasp
- Gold-framed aviator-style sunglasses with amber-gradient lenses
- 2 thin gold necklaces, worn under the shirt
- Gold lightweight analog wristwatch
- Gold diamond ring, worn on the right pinky
Do Yourself a Favor and…
My friend, Thomas Jefferson is an American saint because he wrote the words “All men are created equal”, words he clearly didn’t believe since he allowed his own children to live in slavery. He’s a rich white snob who’s sick of paying taxes to the Brits. So, yeah, he writes some lovely words and aroused the rabble and they went and died for those words while he sat back and drank his wine and fucked his slave girl. This guy wants to tell me we’re living in a community? Don’t make me laugh. 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.
GQ’s article with Ms. Norris is a great read and provides insight into many of the film’s costumes, not just Pitt’s. It can be found here.