The packed house applauded the lurid crime caper on Friday morning, where the writer-director faced questions about the dubious morality of ex-con anti-heroes (played by Schrader regulars Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe), who wreak havoc wherever they go.
Schrader’s been dealing with such issues since he wrote the script for Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes 40 years ago. “From the first sequence on, I try to send the message that if you are taking this seriously, you’re in the wrong movie,” Schrader told the crowd. “This is so unreal, such a lark, that it doesn’t pose any more threat than a Tom and Jerry cartoon.”
While the director enjoyed channeling the likes of Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Humphrey Bogart, he and his young crew set out to reinvent the overdone crime movie genre, figuring out different ways, from the bold-colored production design to shooting a strip club in black-and-white, to “just do something interesting,” he said. Schrader added that he borrowed from Marlon Brando, who used to figure out how most actors would play a scene and do the exact opposite.
Well, the strategy worked. From the start the movie grabs you by the lapels and keeps moving, never lagging, never dull. The picture should play well to smart cinephiles.
Schrader himself has a role in the movie, as The Greek, who sends the ex-cons on a thankless kidnapping mission. Why did he do it? He ran through a series of actors including Rupert Everett and finally just did it himself.
Originally, Schrader had planned to cast Cage as the outrageous, trigger-happy drug fiend Mad Dog, who offs a mother and her daughter in their too-pink house in the movie’s lurid —and memorable—opening sequence. But he had just played a lunatic, Schrader said, so he preferred the straighter role. Dafoe had fun, he said, playing such an “extreme character. It’s a fantasy to be bad, do drugs, to do that extreme violence. It’s in my imagination, it’s not like I did any research for the role.”
Schrader’s fantasy: to take back the re-edited version of his last film,”The Dying of the Light,” the one that got taken away from him, and “bring it back to life,” he said.
His other fantasy: critics and audiences will welcome the movie to such a degree that foreign sales company Arclight will get a big enough bid for North American rights to take it away from Image, which will otherwise release it.