Director Uwe Boll has struggled to find audiences for his controversial films. He started his career with critically-panned video game movies like House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, and Bloodrayne before shifting his crosshairs to topical subject matters. In 2009, he adapted his bloody genre aesthetic for a film about the genocide in Darfur. In 2011, he did the same for the horrors of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz.
This week, Boll releases his next pointed piece of cinema: Assault on Wall Street. Dominic Purcell stars as Jim, a blue collar New Yorker who loses everything in the 2008 financial crisis. As Wall Street bankers shred every bit of evidence of their wrongdoings, Jim watches as his life is destroyed. Witnessing his wife lose a battle with cancer pushes him over the edge, and Jim decides to pick up a few guns and deliver bloody payback aimed at the suits that wronged him.
Striking controversy is Boll’s objective. The German director wants Assault on Wall Street to wake up audiences to the fact that they’re being swindled by the political system and provoke them to take action. But he knows he’s fighting a losing battle against his past. Will anyone take him seriously in a world where Argo (what he calls “an advertising [movie] for the C.I.A.”) wins top prizes at the Oscars?
We sat down with Boll to hear him out. Read on for a boatload of contentious opinions on Wall Street, gun control, Hollywood, and his filmmaking career:
Hollywood.com: Many of your films have relied on over-the-top action but Assault on Wall Street strikes me as a calmer film.
Uwe Boll: I wrote it and I really wanted to show the deconstruction of a human being in the financial crisis fallout. I had the feeling if I make this more like Rampage, I lose all possibilities that people take it really seriously. That stuff like this can really happen. So I decided to go into the details and try and tell a love story. Unusual for my movies.
Did the financial situation in America rile you up on a personal level?
Boll: Look, everything that happened in the bailout… they lifted off everything we ever learned about economy. Especially the people who always talk about free trade. ‘No socialism.’ Then they pump all the tax payers money in savings and investment banks. The consequences of the bailouts were written on the wall from all financial experts. They said, ‘You have to regulate the baking systems.’ If you have $5000 in your checking account, it can not be that they are on the hook if the investment side of the bank is gambling and losing money. It can not be! So they have to divide it up. The normal, classical banking — mortgages, normal loans, deposits — can not be infected by the casino, basically.
It didn’t happen. It’s still the same like it was before. They make the profits still because the stock market exploded from cheap money from the feds. They get the money for free! This is the thing that is crazy. All experts say we’re in another balloon. But next time, there will be no bailout. You can’t say, ‘We print another $5 trillion,’ then we file for bankruptcy five minutes after the bailout because no one can pay that back. It’s so obvious they had to do self-regulations and they didn’t.
Do you feel that Hollywood has properly taken the government to task over the bailouts? Is Assault on Wall Street your response to that? It exudes anger.
Boll: Exactly. Too Big to Fail, Margin Call — I like those movies, but the brokers and the politics are in the middle. There’s no normal guy who makes $50,000 a year in those movies. Wall Street 2 was a complete failure because it doesn’t show the age of greed on Wall Street. It just shows Josh Brolin (who played [George W.] Bush in another [Oliver] Stone movie [laughs]), being one bad guy saving it all with his stupidity. I love Wall Street but the second was a good looking insult. So I wanted to make a movie where a guy holds people accountable because no one else is doing it.
Was extreme violence an essential part of getting that message across?
Boll: When I cast the movie, many agents said, ‘Oh, my actor can not play that. He’s just shooting too many people. He can only shoot one or two.’ And I said, ‘No, it has to be the system.’ Like in the beginning, when the guy says ‘dump the certificates’ and the whole broker room start dumping. They know they’ve damaged the clients and they don’t go to the feds and they’re happy and they know they’ve destroyed peoples’ lives. I think this is important that he goes against everybody. If people who watch the movie are feeling uncomfortable in their seats, on Wall Street, I’ve reached my goal. ‘Oh, maybe I should have bodyguards.’
That’s a bold wish.
Boll: It’s absurd. We have so many people running amok for absolutely no reason, like the Batman screening. Then you have absolutely 100,000 reasons to go after the bankers and nobody did it so far. It’s obvious.
Movies are often accused of promoting violence as a solution to life’s problems. Though that’s Assault on Wall Street‘s goal. Did you consider those acts of gun violence when making this film?
Boll: I think movies are there for this. To be a catalyst. To show what you want to do but can’t do for real. My idea with guns is don’t sell it to people under 30. I’m not pro-someone randomly gets a gun. I know how hard it is to change things in America. But it would omit 17-year-old psychopaths from running amok. In Canada, where I live, there are guns everywhere and no one runs amok. It’s not a movie about gun control. This guy is able to get a gun and he goes for it.
I feel like you attempted to stick it to the man before with Darfur. Was that a success?
Boll: I think Darfur is an excellent movie. I think it’s so brutal that most of the people can’t watch it. It’s like, ‘Oh f**k, I have to switch it off.’ Children being impaled, mass rapes, everything. I did it on purpose because that’s exactly what happens in Darfur. I thought, OK if we don’t stop the genocide but we have money to go to Iraq… here we have facts. I show what’s out there. Children being hacked to pieces. ‘Oh let’s wait another year.’ NATO or whatever. The blue helmets or whatever.
I showed it to the German army in a big multiplex in Germany. They got vert emotional about it. Then a big, four star general in Germany said in front of the crowd, ‘If something like this happens, it doesn’t matter what the order is. Because we’re first human beings and have to stop it.’ They were surprised he said that. We talked to blue helmets that were there that were not fighting. Why didn’t you help? ‘We were observing mission.’ How absurd.
Why wasn’t the movie taken seriously? Does it have to do with the route in which it arrives to America? Do you need the respect of Cannes or Sundance to back it?
Boll: I’m with you. The problem is that if something was said by George Clooney… he’s everywhere. I say something, nobody cares. Especially with Wall Street. It’s the most important subject matter on Earth. There’s no bigger subject matter than the bailout crisis. Why will it get on one screen? Why is it not a movie that gets a 250 print release with some real money behind it?
I imagine it’s because you’re also the guy who made Postal.
Boll: My past haunts me. They don’t take it seriously. The guy who made House of the Dead or Alone in the Dark can’t be serious as a filmmaker. It’s disappointing, but all I can do is keep trying to make movies that matter. At least on DVD or VOD people say, ‘Oh wow.’ A guy came up to me at the American Film Market and said, ‘I’m the Showtime President and I want to tell you that Darfur is the best movie I’ve ever seen on our channel.’ I said, ‘Yeah, and you only $40,000!’ They know they can lowball you.
A lot of things getting a lot of attention… look at Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. These are advertising movies for the C.I.A.. They’re good films because they have good actors and they make them properly, but what is the f**king subject matter of Argo? It’s a minor case. Who cares about eight people?
But would you be open to making a studio movie like that if given the opportunity?
Boll: That’s the thing. I could never do the super patriotic point-of-view. Olympus Has Fallen or White House Down. I could do a big action movie, but it would be a little more balanced. I can not make myself do something where I’m political, where I think, ‘This is so wrong. S**t.’ The Wall Street 2… I can’t do that.
Do video game and genre movies scratch that itch? Hollywood is kind of moving in on your territory now.
Boll: I just got calls that a studio has bought the rights to Far Cry. I lost the rights and they want to do a big, big Far Cry movie. Spent like $5 million on the game rights. I spent $150,000. I bought the rights early when they were developing it and bet on the game being a success. It is what it is. I don’t have a problem making a genre movie like Far Cry or Bloodrayne because I don’t feel I sell out with it.
Your genre films are also R-rated, which I’m guessing isn’t the direction a studio wants to go with most properties.
Boll: What they’re doing is all PG-13. Paramount watched Assault on Wall Street and I got an e-mail, ‘We love it! This is so good! He kills everybody! But we can never acquire it’ [laughs]. There was a point where studios acquired the movies they actually like. People go on the wrong track and constantly release movies that are half-cooked. I watched Jack Reacher on the airplane and it’s an OK movie, but I don’t even know why that guy shot people in the beginning of the movie. I have no f**king clue why they shot that guy. The whole case doesn’t make sense. A lot of the movies coming out are good filmmaking, but without substance.
What’s the next genre movie you’re making?
Boll: Last December, I shot Suddenly, the remake of the Frank Sinatra movie with Ray Liotta and Dominic Purcell. It’s a thriller and plays on one day. I hired an Obama double who almost (or maybe) gets shot in the end. I wanted to do that.
Why the hell would you want to do that?
Boll: Everyone said, ‘Don’t do it!’ But I wanted to do it. I wanted an Obama double. And I was preparing to shoot a movie in India. A thriller about organ trade — but I have huge problems in India. I have tons of Indian guys who want to produce with me and I tell them I want to shoot that movie and they’re like, ‘Oh f**k!’ Because it’s real. They want me to come to India and shoot dancing.
I could see you doing a Bollywood movie.
Boll: Where everyone gets shredded in the end.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches