Bolling for Dollars
Uwe Boll Photo: DPUwe Boll, the middle-aged enfant terrible of the German cinema, has spent most of his career defending his ultra-violent, often amateurish films—some, like his Bloodrayne series, have been adapted from video games—from very harsh criticism. Even his serious, well-intentioned documentaries have been slammed. In fact, he has in his frustration gone so far as to challenge some critics to boxing matches. But my guess is that the reaction will be kinder to his latest venture, Assault on Wall Street, which opens today in Los Angeles and on VOD. It has a long, violent final sequence that invites controversy and will have its detractors calling it merely a "revenge fantasy," but this is surely Boll’s best narrative feature to date, with good acting, a relatable storyline, and a strong point of view. Jim (Dominic Purcell of Prison Break), a nice guy working in New York as a security guard who transports money by truck, hopes that he and his wife Rosie (Canadian actress Erin Karpluk) can have a baby, although she is very ill and the medical bills are sky high. When the economy crashes in 2008, he loses his savings, all investments, his job, and everything that matters to him, he decides to kill the bankers and brokers, big and small, who callously ruined his and other people’s lives. The film ends with his one-man attack on a Wall Street brokerage house. For those people who remain furious that nobody has gone to jail for causing the financial collapse, the ending in which he turns into a vigilante and goes on a rampage inside the Wall Street headquarters of brokerage firm, will be a welcoming catharsis. You can decide if Jim represents us all at this point, and if it’s us against them. The outspoken Boll was in New York City promoting his most ambitious and provocative film to date, and I took part in the following roundtable. I note my questions.
Q: You’ve been kind of like a culture hero in a way, because you’ve done your own thing regardless of what the critics have said. Now you’ve made this movie that not only will be hailed by your fans, but also I think by some critics. I’m worried for you!
Uwe Boll: In the last few years, I made a few movies that I was passionate about, and I always got attacked. I made a movie about the genocide in Darfur and I got attacked, I did Rampage and I got attacked, I did my Auschwitz documentary and I got attacked. I don’t know one person who got worse reviews. I try to make the best movie I can about a subject matter but I get bashed into the ground, so for me it’s not really hurtful anymore. If Terence Malick makes Tree of Life, which makes no fucking sense to anybody, he gets invited to every fucking festival in the world. It just pisses me off that people are completely blind. I don’t know anybody who watched the Darfur movie who could say, “This is a bad movie.” It’s just impossible. So-called critical successes like Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, are to me advertisements for the CIA, showing how great the CIA works. I think the CIA single-handedly destroyed American foreign policy, and is so hated worldwide because they do it all wrong. The filmmakers like Ben Affleck, who are getting nominated for Oscars and winning all the awards, are taking huge steps to the right.
DP: Do you see Assault on Wall Street, which has a political consciousness and was carefully done, as an answer to your critics?
UB: No, they’re scared I’ll shoot them. No, but I felt it was time for me to make not another fictional video-game like Bloodrayne, but something where real people have real emotions and real relationships. I love Rampage, but it’s a very cynical and absolutely straight-forward crazy and brutal. Its message was that you get can away with a crime if you just kill everybody. But I felt on this movie it was time to do something that’s not only an action movie.
DP: But that’s for yourself. Were you also trying to prove anything to anybody else?
UB: No. I’m good. I’m very happy with the movie.
Q: How did you choose the title? I know it had a previous title, Bailout: Age of Greed.
UB: That was my title but the producers changed it to Assault on Wall Street to market it better. I know it will sell better based on that and the new trailer, which makes it seem like an action movie. But I personally think the movie is a drama with a 20-minute action scene. It’s an hour of really real set-up, and creating that situation where my lead character’s life goes down the drain. But they have the right to do it, so they did it. I would never have approved a title that’s completely absurd. Assault on Wall Street in a way makes sense, and as long as more people watch it, I’m okay with it.
Q: What are your feelings about Wall Street that made you mad enough to make this movie?
UB: During the process of the bailouts, I got really interested in the whole structure. What is it actually doing? So I dug a little deeper, not only reading articles and some books about financial markets, but also meeting various people in Germany, including someone who was in Angela Merkel’s bailout commission, and was on the phone when Deutsche Bank asked for a hundred billion dollars. It made me very upset. I think what happened there was basically that we printed money to save the top one percent. It’s been sold to the public that we saved the economy and we saved everybody, but that’s not true. In retrospective, a lot of experts say that if there would have been no bailout, if we never paid anything to any bank, there would have been a recession, then a cleansing process, and the debt in Europe and the US would not have exploded to where it is now, where we’re all slaves of the debt for the next twenty to two hundred years.
Q: Was this film inspired at all by the Occupy Wall Street movement?
UB: A little. I was actually in Washington D.C., and met the Occupy people there. Two American attorneys wanted to finance this movie, but they couldn’t raise the money. The important part of Occupy was that it was is a protest of normal people, people from every culture, background, and country who said, “No, we’re not okay with what happened, and we’re not represented by Democrats or Republicans. I think it’s very important to try to hold the people accountable for what they did, and to not forget the crimes during the bailout, and the crimes that the bankers and banks are actually doing today. Look at last December when there were $25 billion in bonus payments, which was $2 billion more than the year before the crisis. For these guys, it’s still just business as usual. I think it’s completely ridiculous that people walk away with $20 million or $40 million a year. It’s crazy when tons of people can’t pay their monthly bills. I think 60% of Americans think freedom is everything. But if freedom is everything then they couldn’t plunder you and abuse you, and have you work at McDonalds or Starbucks for ten bucks an hour while rich people are just getting richer. It’s absurd.
Q: How did you conceive the character of Jim, played by Dominic Purcell, a good guy who loses everything because of the financial collapse and goes on a rampage to kill everyone on Wall Street who was directly or indirectly responsible? Did you see him as a composite of a bunch of people?
UB: I looked at some statistics and saw that around six or seven million people went under during the financial crisis. Four to five thousand people actually killed themselves. And I watched all the movies on the subject like Wall Street 2, in which only the brokers were portrayed, and watched Margin Call, where you almost feel sorry for Kevin Spacey, even though he is basically a total prick and criminal. It’s not that I disliked Margin Call or Too Big To Fail, but they all humanize the worst people and you almost start liking them because they seem to want to do only what’s best for everyone. I asked, “Where’s the movie about for normal guy, for the real victims?” So I created a simple honest guy, who basically just makes a living and invests his savings, but then discovers that his salary and savings are not enough. The medical costs for his seriously ill wife, Rosie, are just eating him alive. Of course I wanted to make it maybe a little more dramatic than in the real world, because otherwise he wouldn’t do what he does. I had to take him all the way to the bottom so that he doesn’t care anymore.
DP: You talked about freedom before and while watching Jim go downhill, I thought of the famous Kris Kristofferson lyric, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” That seems to be the theme of your movie. Only after Jim loses everything, does he have the freedom and fearlessness to do anything.
UB: It’s true. I think it was important to show the whole struggle, and not to have him lose everything in the first ten minutes. And to show how interconnected all the problems he faces are. For instance because he has debt, his employer in the security firm can’t keep him on. He transports money, so I totally understand why he gets fired. I don’t see that employer as the bad guy. Of course with debt and no money coming in, how can you pay your wife’s medical bills? It’s all connected.
DP: Just one thing after another goes wrong, like a domino effect.
UB: Yeah, where you feel like, Oh, my God, this guy cannot survive.
DP: But he is free ultimately to massacre everyone on Wall Street he begrudges for what happened to him and his wife.
Q: I’m glad you did show where Jim lets the trader go because his wife is pregnant. It shows that he hasn’t completely lost his humanity.
UB: Yeah, he also isn’t shooting the secretaries. He’s picking the people he wants to shoot that he thinks deserve it for ruining people’s lives.
DP: Do you want this film talked about with Death Wish?
UB: It’s kind of a modern Death Wish, changing the villains from street punks to white collar bankers and brokers. In a way, of course, yes, there are similarities. I also think of Falling Down. I love that film but what I don’t love is Michael Douglas’s transformation. At beginning I can completely relate to him because we have all been in situations like his where we want to explode. But then he turns into a total psycho.
Q: Talk about your leads.
UB: I think Dominic Purcell and Erin Karpluk are excellent in the movie. I think the love story totally works. This is by far best movie Dominic ever did for himself as an actor. He shows a lot of emotions.
Q: Talk about casing Edward Furlong, Eric Roberts, and other actors we saw in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
UB: I love movies of the eighties. That realism doesn’t exist any more in movies. Now everything is so clean. Those actors also went through disastrous times in their lives. Edward Furlong is in jail right now. Michael Paré was way up in the business and then went all the way down. Now he’s in a way recovering a little—he was in The Lincoln Lawyer. I hope he gets in a few more years where he actually makes some money. Michael Paré is in like ten of my movies, so if I ever have a good part for him, I want to give him some money, so I hire him. Working with Eric Roberts was very tough because he has problems learning lines. He just cannot remember. So he has to read cards. For the other actor working with him, it’s a disaster, basically. It’s not that he’s a bad person, but it was really tough to shoot scenes with him. I said, “Eric, if you read three or four lines five times from a card, how can you not remember them?” Something had happened to him.
UB: Yes, he was really good in that part. He came super prepared. He had like fifteen pages on that day we shot and was perfect. I’m very happy with the cast in the movie. It’s the B League, it’s not the A League, but everybody who was in it works as their characters.
DP: John Heard’s character’s speech to Jim, defending his evil ways, takes your film to a very strong political place. It’s as if we get into the mind of America’s business elite, and see the thoughts they hide from the public. He actually knows he’s a bad man and that’s all right with him.
UB: I think a lot of the rich people, especially the wives of those people, who normally live long lives and have all the money and pump it into the Museum of Modern Art, believe they’re the best people on earth, because they never question where all that money comes finally from. There’s no rule that says that if you got something in a criminal way, the system should at one point judge you and take that money way. Rarely are they told [as was Bernie Madoff], “You had a good ride, but now it’s over.”
DP: As you said, there is no violence early in the movie. And there is what critics might say is too much violence at the end. Talk about your choice to take these two commercial risks.
UB: In the beginning, I just wanted to have a normal situation, when viewers can relate and feel Jim and Rosie could actually be them. When he starts to kill, it seems like his targets are going to be only the higher-up guys like John Heard’s character. But then he meets his broker, who cost him his life savings with bad financial advice, and see his arrogance and acts like everything can just be forgotten, it shows him that those responsible for what happened to him just don’t get it. There are things that happened that Jim can’t recover from. So I wanted that he really go after the entire system, and shoot brokers and bankers, and doesn’t only go after John Heard’s character. For me, the bad thing about Wall Street 2 is that you almost get the feeling that there’s only one bad guy in all of Wall Street, and the rest are basically good guys. I felt it was important to show that they are all the same. It was pointed out that Jim let’s the guy with the pregnant wife go. I actually want the audience to think, “No, shoot him also.” He lets him go because his own wife, Rosie, never got pregnant and they wanted a baby. So he lets him go, but I felt that for you to relate to his mental state, you to want him to just shoot everybody.
DP: But isn’t having him mow down so many defenseless people a commercial risk?
UB: Yeah, I think there will be a lot of people who will think we shouldn’t show so much violence. It will really be interesting to see what will happen when in plays on TV and people at the stations go, “We shouldn’t show that.”
Q: What other projects are you interested in?
UB: My next project is Annihilation. It’s about the Occupy movement turning into terrorists. They destroy America. I think it would actually be good but nobody will ever finance it.