When Renny Harlin launched a new production company in Beijing in 2018, he believed he had found his new permanent home. After nearly three decades of working at various levels in mainstream American filmmaking, leaping with poise between action-driven projects like Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and Deep Blue Sea, the Finnish-born director had come to terms with that his days as director … the blockbusters of the top-of-the-line studios were probably behind him.
China, on the other hand, presented new challenges, as it prepared to bring its Hollywood-perfected genre film style to the world’s fastest-growing film market. His own directorial outings in Chinese, including Jackie Chan’s Skiptrace vehicle and martial arts epic Legend of the Ancient Sword, suggested that he was skillfully acclimating to his new surroundings. “The Chinese producers asked me to stay and make more movies there and show them how Hollywood movies are made,” says Harlin. “And the people of Hollywood asked me to be there and to be their guide dog in China. I became part of the bridge between the two, in a way. “
And then everything changed. In January 2020, Harlin flew to Finland for a visit to his homeland with a single suitcase, just before the rising terror of Covid-19 sent China, and subsequently the world, into lockdown. “There was no return,” he says. “I waited a week, a month, a year. And then I realized that the Chinese film market will never be the same again. And because of the political climate, the Sino-American relationship is not very good for the foreseeable future. Eighteen months ago, I thought China was going to be my life. And now I’m not coming back. Probably never. “
What can a restless, globetrotting filmmaker do at a dead end? Why make more movies, of course, wherever and whenever possible. Prolific at best, Harlin has been especially busy during the pandemic. While in Finland, he shot his first film in Finnish, 35 years after leaving the country for Hollywood; He’s talking to me from Bulgaria, where he just finished a post-traumatic stress disorder-themed thriller called The Refuge. And last year, under Covid conditions, he traveled to the United Arab Emirates to shoot The Misfits, a flashy and frenzied heist starring Pierce Brosnan as the smooth head of a motley crew trying to rob a prison in a fictional Arab nation.
This week in US theaters.Ahead of a quick transfer to streaming platforms, The Misfits is a flick of cheap thrills and good humor – if you can bear its poorly enlightened take on the Middle East, it’s a joyous throwback to the ninety. – Sizzling action style. In fact, it’s the kind of movie that, in that decade, Harlin could have directed for one of the major studios; Now, despite its flashy and ADD-stricken construction, it is a low-key affair, with funding amassed from various international sources.
Harlin recognizes the difference. “There’s been a huge change, and I think it’s really unfortunate for the art form of cinema,” he says with a sigh. “The cold reality is that now, if you look at the studios, they only make these giant, mega-expensive superhero comic book movies, and they max out their bets by spending a lot, so the audience has so much to see that the movie is going to succeed.
And then at the other end of the spectrum, they make these ultra-cheap horror movies. And then there may be some weird rom-com here and there, but there’s basically nothing in between. Maybe 20 years ago, they would have happily made a movie like this. But now that no longer happens, because films must be based, first of all, on the existing IP ”. Drag the two letters (industrial abbreviation for intellectual property) with audible weariness. “I don’t even remember hearing that expression a decade ago. Now it is everything: whether it is a comic, a book or a television series, the film is already on the market even before they touch the camera ”. Are you saying you wouldn’t make a Marvel movie if asked? “Oh, of course I would!” he shoots back. “It would be pretentious if I said no way. But it is known that in those films, many of the sequences are designed digitally: it is a kind of animated film. And that takes a lot of the fun out of making movies from me. “
Harlin could hardly be a puritan skeptic of franchise-oriented cinema. His first hit was the fourth entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, after all, and after scoring another with the sequel to Die Hard, he joined Alien 3 before creative differences with the producers finally got the job done. David Fincher. But he does believe that it was easier to impose a director’s stamp on such projects than it is now.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the directors who are making comic book movies, but it’s no big secret that the comic book company has a lot of control over things in those franchises,” he says. “They have certain requirements of how movies are made and stories are told. I think it was very different when I was doing sequels, starting with Nightmare, we changed the character of Freddy Krueger a lot: because there were four movies and the audience was in on the joke now, I wanted him to become the hero, kind. from 007 of horror. And they went with that. “
On the back of that gamble, Harlin effectively became a Hollywood studio movie rock star, with long blonde hair and a glamorous personal life to match: He dated Laura Dern (who produced the indie film Rambling Rose). , which earned him his first Oscar nomination). and married Geena Davis, all while churning out one expensive multiplex bauble after another. The blows were not constant; Die Hard 2’s blockbuster came just two weeks after The Adventures of Ford Fairlane crashed in theaters. Most notoriously, the 1995 Davis-spearheaded pirate adventure Cutthroat Island grossed $ 10 million in the US on a $ 100 million budget (earning it Guinness record bomb status), and was accused of bankrupt Carolco Pictures.
A quarter of a century later, Harlin defends the film. “I think it’s a good movie,” he says, “and it’s hard not to feel like we were unlucky, especially when you see how Pirates of the Caribbean did it years later. It really didn’t stand a chance with distribution – not that people hated it, people didn’t know it was out. But it’s what I wanted it to be: a swashbuckling movie for kids and people with a child inside. Certainly, there are some movies that I made that didn’t turn out very well. But I’m proud of that. “
Can you name one of the movies that didn’t work out? “Exorcist: The Beginning,” he says painfully, referring to the lurid 2004 horror prequel that was redesigned and filmed from a more eccentric cut by director Paul Schrader. “In a moment of weakness, I decided to help a friend and I knew from the script that it was not going to be great.” He sounds optimistic about his career failures, though he admits that the box office failure is devastating right now. The poor performance of his second film with Davis, the tremendous killer thriller The Long Goodnight Kiss, is still irritating: it is the film of his that he most longs for audiences to rediscover. “I think she was ahead of her time with her female action hero,” she says. “It is a very entertaining movie.”
He then returns to Finland, where he will film a local crime comedy with producer Markus Pelin, a longtime friend with whom he made his first film, the business card action movie Born American, in 1986. Harlin, apparently He’s a free agent these days – does he feel that way, relative to his mega-budget era in Hollywood? “It is true, yes: the more money is invested, the bigger the study, the more pressure and vigilance there is.” He pauses. “I was joking the other day, while we were filming in Sofia: it feels great to make a movie without parental guidance. That’s what it feels like. “