Director Doug Liman fascinates me. He’s hard to get a handle on. An indie filmmaker who broke through with Swingers and Go, after his smash hits The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Liman became a Hollywood director for hire (see: Warners’ upcoming All You Need is Kill and Universal’s Moon project).
But he’s hardly your average workaday studio stooge. Some people (ask Bourne producer Frank Marshall) describe him as an out-of-control indulgent indie run amok in Hollywood, squandering budgets as he goes, forcing others to clean up the mess. (In my Variety profile, he told me: “My films have been successful and therefore the process has accommodated me. When the studio said ‘no,’ I did it anyhow. Now they don’t say no to me.”)
Indeed, his films are consistently watchable and entertaining in their quirky unpredictability. This guy isn’t capable, it seems, even with a misfire like 2008’s Jumper, of being boring. With Fair Game, Liman, the son of New York power-lawyer Arthur Liman, attacked a serious drama about a subject he cared deeply about, at the same time keeping it accessible. Thus he was a brilliant hire for the Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson story, which was adapted by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth from Plame’s book. Think about all the politically charged exposition and sincere dogma this movie requires: in other hands it could have been deadly.
That’s why producers Jerry and Janet Zucker, who struggled to raise financing from multiple sources for this labor of love (River Road Entertainment, Participant Media, Imagenation Abu Dhabi FZ ) took Liman on, despite his reputation (even he admits that he can be “belligerent”), and they insist that he was well worth it. (They would have liked Sean Penn to promote Fair Game, though; Liman alienated the actor enough so that he has eschewed doing press for the movie. THR gets the Naomi Watts side of the story.) The movie is struggling at the box office; Summit broadened the film to 386 theaters last weekend for a total gross to date of $3.7 million.
In my flip cam interview below, Liman talks about why Jumper is like Fair Game, Hollywood vs. New York, and declares that while he has always featured strong women in his films (from Franka Potente to Angelina Jolie), “Valerie Plame is the most challenging character I have ever brought to the screen.”