APRIL 10 ― Back in the mid- to late 90s, the name Doug Liman was usually associated with the 90s independent film boom alongside then famous names like Quentin Tarantino, Gregg Araki, Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderbergh and Richard Linklater, thanks to the success of his early films Swingers and Go, which were very much in the cool and rebellious spirit of the indie film scene of that era.
As someone who grew up during that era, Liman was not as important a name to me personally as I was never that impressed with Swingers and Go, and there were other directors and films of the era that I was more enamoured with, like Hal Hartley, Whit Stillman, Jim Jarmusch and Noah Baumbach, but it is only when he stopped being perceived as “cool” and got more and more involved with mainstream Hollywood in the 2000s that his work really started to become interesting as well.
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Liman’s The Bourne Identity, for starters, despite most people crediting Paul Greengrass (who did the first two sequels) with establishing what is now being widely accepted as the modern day shaky-cam Hollywood action movie aesthetics, was actually the one who laid down the template, with even the Bond movies adopting it to keep up with the times.
His subsequent Hollywood work like Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Jumper and Fair Game understandably received mixed receptions from film critics, as they all felt a bit “impersonal” compared to the films that came before, which surely contributed to his fast diminishing “cool factor” in the eyes of film critics everywhere.
But his diminishing stock also meant that a lot of people out there missed out on the fact that his 2014 film, Edge Of Tomorrow, was one of the great sci-fi pictures of the 2010s, and that his last film, American Made, from 2017, a dark, cynical, funny and hugely fun critique/satire of America’s obsession with other countries’ freedom, was a hidden gem ripe for rediscovery.
It's been four years since his last film, so imagine my surprise when suddenly not one, but two new Liman films dropped in 2021. The first one, Locked Down, was released on HBO Max in January and the second one, Chaos Walking, was released in US cinemas in March and on VOD in early April.
What a pleasure it is to get to wolf down two new Liman films just a couple of months apart, so let’s check out if they’re worth the watch, shall we?
Probably the first major film, starring big name stars (Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor), that was not only about life under lockdown, but also conceived and shot during the global lockdown period, Locked Down has a quite appealing off-the-cuff feel to it, making it feel more like an indie film instead of one with big Hollywood stars in it.
Written, shot and edited in just four months (with 18 of those being shooting days), Locked Down does not adhere to a lot of the standard screenwriting rules (Liman reportedly secured the funding and stars for the movie with only a quarter of the script finished), and there’s a messy feel to its emotions that quite rightly reflects the kind of emotions we feel when living life under lockdown.
It's about a couple in London who’s already decided that they’re splitting up, but are forced to live under the same roof because of the lockdown, with added pressure coming from the fragile reality of their day jobs, and it’s this part of the movie where the messy emotions come from.
But there’s another element to the film involving the forces of fate and a heist at the world-famous Harrods that gives the film the genre kick it needs, and it’s this fanciful, free-spirited part of the movie that keeps you glued to the screen.
Admittedly, the two parts do not really gel well together, which makes it a movie where the parts are greater than the whole, but just for its attempt to capture something true about lockdown life (there are even real Zoom and Skype calls recorded with a plethora of guest stars like Ben Stiller and Mindy Kaling), while not forgetting to provide us with some genre thrills, this one deserves a casual watch at least.
A movie adaptation of Patrick Ness’ best-selling Young Adult novel The Knife of Never Letting Go might have been a sure-fire hit during the age of Twilight, Harry Potter and the first two Hunger Games movies, but by the time shooting started in 2017, YA movies were fast becoming box-office disasters, with the studios choosing to not even make the final film in the Divergent series.
It took until 2021 for this movie to finally be released, after reportedly extensive reshoots in 2019 as the film’s initial cut was deemed “unreleasable” by the studio, which ordered the reshoots to improve the film’s commercial prospects, understandable given their US$100 million (RM413 million) investment and the fact that it has two rising stars in it ― Daisy Ridley from the new Star Wars movies and Tom Holland from the new Spider-Man films.
Having not read the source material before, but after watching the version of the movie now released in 2021, I have a feeling that the story itself is not that “commercial” in the first place.
It’s about a time in the future where the male settlers on a new planet can all hear (and sometimes see) each other’s thoughts (good luck trying to visualise that on film).
The same thing doesn’t apply to women, and when the film starts, there doesn’t seem to be any women around anymore, with our teenage hero Todd Hewitt seemingly the youngest of the male species living in Prentisstown, until one day Viola crash lands from the sky, sending Prentisstown into chaos, with dark secrets waiting to be revealed as Todd and Viola journey across the planet to help Viola contact her ship.
Reviews have been pretty dreadful for the film, but I had no problems with it except wishing that it could’ve been funnier because of the whole hearing and seeing thoughts thing, which I thought the movie didn’t fully embrace with regards to its comic potential.
A decent movie and not the disaster it was made out to be, but only see this if you have the extra time to do so, as disappointment, however slight, is inevitable.
* This the personal opinion of the columnist.