Talking about the filming conditions for the actors, what kind of challenges do they create for you and the crew?

All technical challenges are booby traps, because you can so easily step on a landmine of technical obsession and forget that what really carries people are the story, the characters, and having a story. I was probably guilty of that to some degree in Stealth where I got so fascinated with what I could do with jets and all of this that I kind of never looked at the script and said, “I need more story here. There needs to be more humanity here. I have too much chasing planes around and flying stuff and I need more story.” You learn those lessons.

So now I’m more like, OK, I wanted to take an action film and plunk it in the middle of a category five hurricane. But I also wanted it to have relationships, which is why I created these estranged brothers that weren’t in the original script and to understand their past and why they don’t get along, because one blames the other for the death of the father.
Putting their lives on the line for each other and then realizing that they can have a new relationship free of the trauma of the past, that was one story that was very important to me. The other story was to do a male-female story in which it never becomes a love story, you know? They don’t trust each other and then they work together and they start cooperating and then they begin to bond, but it never becomes a kissy, gooey moment. It’s just two people that come to like each other through cooperating and risking together.

I said to both of them the whole story takes place in eight or nine hours from the early morning and it’s over by sunset. So who’s got time to fall in fucking love, right? Right. I said the two things that bug me in action movies is nobody stops to take a leak, and nobody ever eats. So I said, in this movie, we’re going to have one scene where they take a pee break.

Which gets some exposition out of the way.

[Laughs] Which gets some exposition out of the way. We tick that box. With all that rain, you probably had to take a leak 50 times that day, and we get that done. Then when they get to the peanut butter and Jelly, it’s a bonding, but it’s a quiet scene. After eight hours of running, jumping and fighting these villains in the storm, you’d probably have an appetite.

Getting exposition out of the way like that, that’s the kind of thing I don’t think maybe gets enough credit in reviews.

I wrote those scenes, so I’m proud of them. I just feel like the critics just don’t get action films. They don’t like them. They don’t open their mind to them. Once in a while they get behind Ryan Coogler and Black Panther, which everybody should. It’s a wonderful, exciting movie, I think, and he’s a wonderful director, but if it didn’t have the Social Patina, you might not find a lot of these Peter Travers and these people having paroxysms of orgasmic joy for a Marvel movie, but they’ve learned that Marvel is here to stay and if they don’t get behind these things, they’re going to look square and old.

When it comes to your action movie that hasn’t got any social relevance in terms of race and all that, they’re very harsh on them, because they don’t like them. They don’t think they should be made. They resent every time one of them is made because they think every time I make Hurricane Heist somebody doesn’t get to make Ladybird. You know, that’s they’re thinking. I really believe it.

We talked a couple of years ago about this for Alex Cross, and at the time, you seemed comfortable with not pleasing critics.

I mean, they have their opinions, but you know, there was this thing that happened to me with Vincent Canby years and years ago. You know Vincent Canby?

He was the critic for the New York Times, right?

Yeah. Well, you know, my first movie came out and he trashed it. A few weeks later I ran into him at a restaurant, in New York, and my friends go, “Don’t go over there. Don’t do anything. Don’t say anything.” I go, “No, I need to talk to this guy,” so I went over to his table. I said, “Mr. Canby, I’m Rob Cohen. I directed Small Circle of Friends, which you trashed two weeks ago.” He said, “Yes, it wasn’t very good, was it?” I said, “Well, let me tell you something. See, Mr. Canby, you’re old and you’re going to die soon, and when you die, no one’s going to remember one thing you ever wrote. All your life’s work will be as forgotten as any other newspaper article that got flushed into the gutter. Me, this film you trashed, it’ll be showing somewhere. When I’m dead, it will be showing somewhere and people will be reacting to it, whether they hate it or love it or it’s memorable to them or not. It’s going to be out in the world where you’re basically going to be forgotten. Then I walked away from him.

Do you ever take it personally? I know sometimes reviews can turn into mocking years of work.

They’ll go after me personally. I mean, the shit they said about me and Alex Cross, it was like, “What did I do, fuck your sister?” I don’t even know who you are and you have no idea who I am, so what’s with the personal attack? If you don’t like the movie, then don’t like the movie. Tell people not to see it. Tell people whatever you want, but what is with the personal attack? No need for it. You’re not classy enough to understand that, and that’s what I feel about a lot of them. They’re lost in their own little world and they all talk to each other and decide which one’s going to get a lot of good reviews. You know, there was one critic who liked Stealth and he told me afterwards that he got so many call angry calls from people saying, “How dare you like that film.” You know, they are what they are. At first it hurt me, but then I went, why is it hurting me?

As long as people come, that’s all I care about. As long as people come and say that was fun, that was entertaining, and they had a good time. Once in awhile, like Fast and Furious, it has a resonance that transcends my Gonzo nuttiness and my sense of how to construct an action film that has a fantasy edge with gravity and Newton and all the things that you look for or I look for. I’ve almost always gotten an A cinema score, so that’s my review. If the audience comes out and goes, “I love this movie,” then all I care about is what these people say.

***

The Hurricane Heist is now in theaters.

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