Prolific filmmaker Uwe Boll doesn't exactly have the best reputation among moviegoers. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that he has the worst reputation among moviegoers. The director of fare like "Alone in the Dark," "Blubberella," and a film about Auschwitz that I couldn't bring myself to watch for the purposes of this piece, Boll is often cited as the worst filmmaker since Ed Wood. Famously, he once boxed a number of his most outspoken critics (and soundly beat the crap out of them), and the makers of Stride Gum once created a petition to get Boll to retire (it currently has 350,000+ of the 1,000,000 signatures Boll demanded).
While I can't claim to be much of a Boll apologist (or even to have seen the majority of his work), I do believe that Boll has suffered more greatly from ad hominem attacks than he has critical barbs, as his reputation has achieved far greater reach than most of his films. Indeed, his new release, "Assault on Wall Street" (formerly titled "Bail Out: The Age of Greed") is proof that, at the very least, Boll is telling the kind of stories that no one else will.
Dominic Purcell plays Jim, a contentedly average NYPD officer with a wonderful and loving wife. Unfortunately, she's expensively ill, and the two of them are smack dab in the middle of the 2008 financial crisis. Dom gets screwed in every which way, and his wife – unwilling to be such a financial burden – commits suicide. Dom snaps. He vows revenge against the greedy banker types who dismantled his life, and – without giving too much away – his plan will probably not sit comfortably with most audiences (at least, I hope it won't).
Co-starring Keith David, Edward Furlong, Eric Roberts and John Heard, "Assault on Wall Street" is definitely a very different response to the financial crisis. With the film due to hit theaters in New York and L.A. this Friday (when it will also be available on VOD nationwide), I sat down with a gregarious Uwe Boll to talk about what inspired this boldly deranged new movie, and why actors seem to love working with him so much.
This interview contains spoilers.
FILM.COM: “Assault on Wall Street” is certainly a lot more confrontational in some respects than a lot of the films that have been made about the financial crisis. Do you think that the other movies about the subject have been cowardly?
UWE BOLL: Yeah. To be honest. It’s not that “Margin Call” or “To Big to Fail” were bad movies. I watched them all, because I’m interested in the subject. I think only “Wall Street 2” was bad. [laughs]. But I felt like when I watched all of them, I felt... ‘Where is that movie for the seven million people who lost their houses?’ Why doesn’t anybody represent them? In those movies, you start identifying with Kevin Spacey and the crooks! There’s nobody else you can relate to, so you start liking the people who failed us. I felt like there was an injustice. There are no lawsuits against Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers and whoever. So I felt like Obama let us down there, because he said that everybody should have a fair shot, and there should be accountability. But with the banks, where was it?
Why do you think it is that Hollywood hasn’t told that story? Do you feel like Kevin Spacey and whomever else is too far removed from the experience of the common person?
Yeah. I mean, some studios are listening to the stock market, and they’re a little careful... a little political and scared. And at the same time, agents and actors... well, I had a few actors who passed on the project because they said like, ‘Wow, if someone actually would do what Dom does in the film in real life, then my career would be over.’ But where are the courageous movies? I mean, “Argo?” I liked it, but it’s like an advertisement for how great the CIA is. I felt like in the 80s there were more movies that were putting their finger in the wound. “The Deer Hunter” and stuff like that were not made 10 years later, they were made to change the craziness of the war. And I feel like there are not a lot of movies out that are really gritty. And this was my plan, to do something that riled people up. To make people think, ‘Yes, the bankers should get shot.’ I’m not like, pro go and shoot them, but this is what a movie is for. To scare them a little is the plan. To watch that movie... maybe a few bankers will watch it on VOD and think, ‘oh, I should change a few things. Like, get a bodyguard! Or change my behavior.’
Let me ask you a question about Jim, the main character. It’s easy enough to relate to what he’s going through for most of the movie, but even when he starts killing people I think I understood his frustrations. But the one thing that really raised a red flag for me is when he started shooting randomly into the other office buildings, killing office workers.
But he picks only brokers.
Well... But he’s still a hero, you think?
No, I think he’s a murderer. But he was at this point where he would prefer to be dead. It was like a dream for him. Even if he changes positions with John Heard, he was still really not planning to get out of it. That the cops let him go, that’s a message to the rest of the world that someone has to do something. I mean, if you have a situation where injustices happen, and it pulverizes him... he meets his ex-broker, and that guy only suffered in the financial crisis one year of not taking his Bermudan holiday. It’s like it’s so absurd... I talked to a few people when doing research, and they said they spend 1,000 dollars a day for lunch every day because nobody checks his credit. They’ve lost that much of a connection to the real world. And that this can even happen is the crime of Europe and America, these political parties that just went with it.
So even being away from the States, you felt the ramifications of what was happening on a personal level?
Yeah. I live in Canada, but even in Germany I was talking to a guy who was on the Chancellor’s commission for the bailout, and he told me that in the beginning, Merckel was really listening to the group of professors there, but when Deutsche Bank took over and said they needed $150 billion bucks right now, she just gave it to them unconditiionally. It’s the same thing that happened here, just a blur. And it totally worked because the politics cannot risk having riots on the street because nobody can get cash. But in retrospect, now we know it was a bluff, and we should make people responsible for it. How can we let... last December, people getting $25 million bonuses only two years after what happened? This is crazy. I’m disappointed in all political parties.
Do you think that the appropriate oversight is really possible with political parties, or do you think that it gets to a point where the machine is too big and inhuman to be responsible? I mean, responsibility is a big theme in the film. You say in the very first scene that the bankers are only responsible, not to their investors, but to their shareholders. So I wonder, do people feel sufficiently in touch to feel responsible to the little person?
They’re all successful business people. Even Obama was a successful business person. So I think they’re all disconnected. But it would be interesting to see what Obama would say 20 years from now, when he’s not in charge anymore, what they did to him. That he could not speak up. I believed that he would change something, but I believe also that they told him that if he wanted to get re-elected, if he wanted to get any laws changed in the next few years, he couldn’t do anything. I still hold out hope for small changes. It cannot be that AIG made $22 billion last year and said they made $10 billion profit, but before they tanked 1.2 trillion, they just took it from the balance sheet and put it in the bad bank.
Right, and now there’s a fresh start, and based on the new profits, there’s a new bonus. And this is the kind of stuff where like, when I talked to Professor Poika in Germany, I said how could they not... the moment the bank sits there and says ‘We’re done in 5 minutes.’ Now is the perfect time to put in conditions. To say, okay, I’ll give you the money, but the management can only make $200,000 a year until it’s paid back. And we own the bank. We can say what deals you can and can’t do. But they did nothing like this. The governemnts just trusted them even after they failed completely, and just gave them all the money. And I think it was the most crazy act... ever.
As an artist, do you feel a different onus in times like this? A renewed sense, as a filmmaker, that you have a duty to make these sort of films?
I think filmmaking at its best can open up eyes to problems that really matter. And of course I’m really disappointed that it’s only going to be playing in New York and LA, because it’s a film that everyone should see.
Well, it’ll be on VOD.
Yeah, and VOD it will hopefully a lot of people will watch it, because it really matters. It’s nice to see a new superhero flying around every weekend, but it’s also nice from time to time to have movies that really nail a subject and say, ‘look, we need a correction. We cannot just act like nothing happened.’ And now Dow Jones has blown up again and everyone is happy, but we all know we shouldn’t be. We all know why the Dow is up, because nobody invests in anything else, anymore. Only in stocks, because you don’t get any interest. In earlier years you got 5% interest on a bond, but now you get 0.8% so you buy stocks. Then the stocks go up, but it’s just another balloon with nothing behind it. So I think, as a lot of experts say, we are in a new bubble. And they use all that money to gamble.
"Bubble" is always a worrying term.
Greece is only the tip of the iceberg. Italy, Spain... they’re all dead. I was in Barcelona at the beach and there are thousands and thousands of empty houses. It’s like a ghost town. You see it and it’s over. In Germany, we never suffered so much that you see the downfall of a civilization, but you see it if you go south. I don’t know what will happen, but I do know that we don’t have any more money for bailouts.
The title change I thought was really interesting. “Assault on Wall Street” is a helpful title, it obviously feels a lot more aggressive and speaks to where the movie goes. Can you talk about the thinking behind the title change?
It was Phase 4, the distributor. Everyone really loved it... Dom loved it. I thought, you know, it’s not really an action movie, and I feel like it’s underselling it, but more people will watch the movie, and that’s what’s important.
It’s even higher on the VOD menu, so that’s how the business works these days.
It’s a good thing, and... yesterday at the Soho Film Festival, there were 250 people, and they were really enraged. ‘We hate those f**kers!’ And that’s what I wanted. If I had made the movie like ‘Rampage’ or whatever, people would never have gotten the chance to know Dom’s wife, because that’s the character that makes it all clear.
That time the movie spends gives the film a specificity that’s often missing from things like this, the mention of COBRA Healthcare in particular struck a chord with me.
There’s the attorney he retains, and the state attorney... it’s important that he tries all of the legal ways to do soemthing before he ends up in a dead end. Good behavior normally should be good for you and good for everyone else, but that’s gone off in the last 15 years or so. That was the thinking behind the subtitle “Age of Greed,” what’s good for you now damages others, and you don’t care as long as you gain. No one would say it in public, but this drives the economy. Think of Walmart, they make all this stuff in China and then sell it to Americans. But if things were 10% more expensive, I think people would pay it. People would say ‘I give a s**t!’ That whole system of driving profits up and making it cheap there, it’s ridiculous.
The last question I have is about your actors. They seem to want to keep working with you. Dominic Purcell has already signed on for your next film. What is it about working with you or the way that you run a set that you think makes people want to come back?
In the last few years I changed more to hand-held, and we shoot the whole scene at once in a master take, and in the older movies you have lots of CGI and you have to put people in certain positions, and everyone was getting annoyed and I felt it was so bad for the actors. So I like it ifr they do whatever they want, and I think that a lot of actors like that. Like John Hurt, the big speech at the end, we did that as a one-er, and he’s a big theater actor and we just kept rolling. With the Alexa we have the opportunity to have that 15-minute shot, and it was impossible with 35mm. I also have made so many movies now that I’m not really nervous around actors anymore.
You used to be nervous?
Sure, in the earlier years. “Alone in the Dark” was the first movie where there were big stars... Christian Slater was still big, and Stephen Dorff, and then there was Tara Reid. You know, Tara Reid. [pauses and laughs]. But the thing is they were all big names, and I had to adjust to their behavior, with their personal behavior and all that kind of stuff, I was not used to that before. But a lot of actors are so insecure that it’s important to just show them what you want, and then give them the trust to feel comfortable.
It’s funny, every director I talk to says the same thing, about how actors are so insecure.
Well, not Dominic.
That guy doesn’t look insecure.
He’s confident, he thinks he’s the best actor ever. It’s actually helping him, I think it’s good. In this movie, he shows that he’s not a one-dimensional action guy, he can carry a movie. I worked with Dolph Lundgren, he could never carry a movie. He could never have real emotions with a wife. But Dominic, yes. Just like Gerard Butler. He can be emotional, and be funny, and be tough. I hope his name gets bigger.