Director Scott Cooper (who spoke after a showing of the film at ArcLight Hollywood on 12/06) was approached by producers Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio to reconceive Brad Ingelsby's script, a revenge drama that Cooper took, apparently, from a genre piece to something quite personal and powerful. As someone who came from coal mining country in Virginia, had lost a sibling and had had relatives who had served in the war, he could relate to the story, in which Christian Bale's character basically sacrifices himself to
try to save his brother, a damaged veteran played by an outstanding Casey Affleck (right).
I thought the film was pretty remarkable, with stellar performances. Sure, Woody Harrelson's mountain man character is a bit over-the-top, but he's also scary as hell. The film sets up his character at the outset, at a drive-in movie with a date. Cooper shared with me later that the film they were watching was Midnight Meat Train-- a Japanese horror movie, "the only film that would bring Woody Harrelson's character out."
There' s a scene on a bridge between Bale and Zoe Saldana which is so beautifully acted by both and so affecting that it's hard to bear. In fact, Bale's performance in this film may be the best of his career. It's almost unfathomable to imagine that he's actually Welsh.
Cooper, at right with Bale, is an actor himself (as well as the director and co-writer of Crazy Heart, which starred Jeff bridges). He described his process with the actors as "investigative textwork" prior to shooting (discussing everything about the characters' backstories, including what music the character would listen to, what magazines s/he would read, why they stayed there). Cooper said he generally did no more than 5-7 takes with his actors, and then let them do a couple of their own. In this film he uses long lenses and close ups that viscerally connect us with the characters.
Cooper counts among his influences John Ford, Terence Mallick, and John Cassavetes. He said that his film school was watching all the masters' films with the sound off. (I can't help thinking of Paul Thomas Anderson, who has said his film school was watching DVD commentaries.) I guess we must count Coppola among those influences, because Cooper said that the ending was his homage to The Godfather Part II. I'm a sucker for allusions, so I loved that.
Oh yeah--Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, and Sam Shepard are also in the film.
I think Cooper is a filmmaker to watch, hopefully an auteur in the making. Here's the trailer for the film:
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