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The stars play two police officers, an old bitter cop (Gibson) and a younger volatile partner (Vaughn), who are suspended when a tape surfaces in the media highlighting their brutal tactics on the job. Without money or career options, the two end up falling into the criminal world seeking their just due, but soon find themselves way in over their heads. Tory Kittles, Michael Jai White, Udo Kier, Laurie Holden, and Jennifer Carpenter also star.
This is Zahler’s third and biggest film to date, with a $15 million budget, as well as working with his biggest star, Gibson. But Zahler said Monday that the additional money only caused him to “suffer.”
“This was a really hard production. A ton of it is in cars. This is a difficult thing to do. It’s a big piece with a lot of characters. It gave me more days so that I can dig into the drama,” he said during a Venice festival press conference Monday, adding that at the time he shot in Vancouver it was difficult to get the best crew. “Although it was seemingly more comfortable this was the least comfortable of the three.”
Vaughn admitted that he did have a small role in convincing Gibson to join the cast, who did not attend the press conference. “I had worked with Mel on Hacksaw [Ridge] and had overlapped doing Brawl [in Cell Block 99] with Zahler. He came and talked about this other movie, and Mel was the name that he recommended for the character of Ridgeman,” Vaughn recalled. “They sent it to Mel, and I mentioned it to him. Thankfully Mel really responded to it. He’s such a terrific filmmaker, and I think Zahler is such a terrific filmmaker.”
Continued Vaughn: “He really sets out with a vision and a story and he doesn’t really compromise on that, in just the most inclusive way. He just knows what he wants to do. It was just really nice to share the set with those guys, and having a history with those guys makes the job a little easier.”
“Zahler is a completely original voice and he’s pushing his way into the future,” said Kittles of the director’s vision. “When I first read the script I was like, ‘Who wrote this?’ It was one of those things you just couldn’t put down,” noting that he started reading it late at night, and it was a very, very long script.
Zahler said that his goal was to create an ensemble piece where the world of the story is larger than just the plot, similar to Dog Day Afternoon and Prince of the City. He said he saw the latter film 25 times when he was a child.
And there was one other film that was a huge influence for him. “When you walk into my apartment in New York City and look immediately to your left, you see a poster for The Killing, which is one of [Stanley] Kubrick’s best. I approach everything in terms of what do I want to see and what am I a fan of.”
The director also discussed his approach to writing. “The process of writing the screenplay as a whole is like my writing process as a whole, which is to surprise myself every day,” said Zahler, adding that the characters he thinks will live end up dying and vice versa.
Zahler also acknowledged that he’s not making films for everyone. “I’m not chasing the biggest audience and I’m comfortable with losing some of them. There are obviously remarks that are throwaway jokes and there are lines that aren’t politically correct,” he said. “There are lines that will get people to hate me, and that is your right to do so. I hope that there’s enough of an audience that it’s a success to get to the next one.”
Lionsgate will release the film, which runs at 159 minutes, in the U.S. through its Summit Entertainment label.
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