Brad Pitt's role as a brutal mob enforcer is not just a gangster story but a commentary on modern living, he said today.
Killing Them Softly stars Pitt as Jackie Cogan who is hired to hunt down and punish a gang of petty thieves who turned over a lucrative poker game.
At a packed press conference in Cannes today Pitt, who also produced the film, said he was looking for stories that "say something about our time and who we are."
He also quashed rumours that he and partner Angelina Jolie had set a date for their wedding, and added she would not be joining him at the festival this evening.
Describing the idea behind Killing Them Softly, which also stars Ray Liotta as Markie who owns and runs gambling clubs, Pitt said newspaper headlines about the global financial situation and what was happening to people was a source of inspiration.
He said: "This commentary - in the way it's done in this film, in the way that you believe you're watching a gangster film - I felt it was really a gangster film and it wasn't until the very end that things coalesced for me as far as maybe the direction the film was pointing to overall; that the film actually was saying something about the greater world."
He said his character killed people in the best way possible, hence the title of the film, as was dictated by his occupation.
"He wanted to get the job done and put people through the least pain," Pitt said.
"There's actually a humanity there for the person who's got to go.
"This is just an unfortunate part of our business but it's got to be cut-throat and that's the way it is.
"I equate that to business, business can be very, very cut throat and we all accept the terms."
Pitt, who appeared at the press conference wearing a grey suit and white t-shirt and sporting a goatee beard and moustache, said partner Jolie would not be joining him in Cannes because she was too busy.
Commenting on if they had set a date for their wedding, he said:
"We actually really, truly have no date."
Killing Them Softly sees Pitt as Jackie who, under the eye of a mysterious driver, tries to track down and punish those responsible for the heist.
Along the way his assignment is complicated by an ageing drunken hitman, bumbling local gangsters and a ladies' man who ran the ill-fated game.
Based on the book Cogan's Trade by George V Higgins, Killing Them Softly also stars James Gandolfini, Scoot McNairy, and Ben Mendelsohn.
Asked if Pitt found it hard to play a violent character because he had children, he said he did not and would find it more "unsettling" to play a character such as a racist.
Violence, he said, was a part of the world nowadays and it was important to reflect that on screen.
Director Andrew Dominik added: "It was part of the story.
"I like violence in movies. I think that movies are a drama and the most dramatic expression of drama is violence."
He went on: "Jackie is, as much as possible, trying to make murder as painless an experience for the murderee by spinning a fantasy of safety around them before he kills them.
"He's very concerned with the violence not being cruel or unusual for the victim."
The cast will join up again tonight and walk the famed Cannes red carpet this evening ahead of the premiere of Killing Them Softly.