Rob Cohen Cooks Up Perfect Storm In ‘Hurricane Heist’
This year, the US Federal Reserve will shred an estimated 5.6 billion damaged, out-of-date or just plain grotty banknotes worth a combined $175 billion and send them to be incinerated.
Money gets trashed regularly and mostly no one notices — but what if a powerful hurricane and a gang of sophisticated thieves happened to be headed right towards where it’s kept?
That’s the premise of “The Hurricane Heist,” the latest release from veteran director Rob Cohen, the creator of the megabucks “Fast and Furious” franchise.
“A shoot-out is no longer just a shoot-out, a chase is no longer just a chase. Any of the tropes of action filmssuddenly have to reinterpreted by taking place in 140 mph winds and driving rain,” the 68-year-old told AFP.
“It just seemed like, what a delicious challenge to be able to create a hurricane itself, but to create an action film within it.
“The Hurricane Heist” stars Toby Kebbell (“Kong: Skull Island”) as Will Rutledge, a government meteorologist tracking Hurricane Tammy, the fiercest storm in US history, headed for coastal Alabama.
As the locals evacuate, the US mint in the fictional town of Gulfport race against time to shred $600 million in old bills before Tammy hits — but a gang of tech-savvy robbers have other ideas.
Extreme weather is a nightmare all too real for Cohen, who remembers a particularly terrifying storm when he was growing up in the small commuter town of Cornwall, an hour’s drive north of New York City.
“We got hit with a hurricane somewhere in the 1950s and all I remember is the power going out and trees falling. You hear the trees snapping and falling, and those banshee winds howling,” he recalls.
– ‘Hunkering down’ –
“We were on the edge of that storm, not even in the brunt of it, but I remember I was like six or seven years old, just hunkering down, worried that a tree was going to crush the house with me in it.”
After graduating from Harvard, Cohen got his break in Hollywood as a reader for agent Mike Medavoy.
One day, he plucked a neglected script out of the slush pile and promised Medavoy it was “the great American screenplay and… will make an award-winning, major-cast, major-director film.”
After some next-level nagging, Medavoy agreed to try to sell the screenplay but warned that if there were no takers, Cohen would be fired.
Universal bought it and it went on to win seven Oscars, including best director and picture, and Cohen has been known ever since as “the kid who found ‘The Sting.'”
This intuition has fuelled much of his work, balanced with an aptitude for innovative special effects that has seen him firing cars out of moving trains and placing his cameramen on go-karts.
Creating the storm of the century on camera is the kind of challenge the director of high-octane blockbusters such as “xXx” and “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” relishes.
An early pioneer of computer-aided animation, Cohen abandoned CGI in favour of practical effects to show farmhouses destroyed, trucks whipped into the air and a 20-foot tsunami crash into a garden centre.
Meanwhile, he used LED plates on the windows of cars to transform the red tower roofs and stucco buildings of Sofia, Bulgaria, where the shoot took place in the summer of 2016, into the bucolic Deep South, with its checkered drapes and picturesque coastline.
– Crushing rain –
“I find that an audience has a real sense of when you dump 44,000 gallons of water on a team of stuntmen, and when you pull them on wires and add the fake water later,” Cohen said.
“There are just a million tells that tell you this isn’t real. Computers don’t handle chaos well.”
Kebbell and Maggie Grace (“Lost,” “Twilight: Breaking Dawn”), who plays US treasury agent Casey Corbyn, endured pummeling by crushing rain, 100 mile-per-hour gusts of wind and routine 16-hour days on set.
You don’t have to look particularly hard to find the subtext in all this chaos, for “The Hurricane Heist” is a movie that wears its ecology message very much on its sleeve.
Kebbell’s Will explains at one point that the increasing frequency and severity of hurricanes is caused by global warming and that “all due deference to Donald Trump, there is man-made climate change.”
Cohen, it turns out, has vitriol to spare for Trump, who has described climate change as a Chinese hoax and appointed climate change sceptic Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
“There’s probably not a human being that hates Donald Trump more than me. I have found a dark side of myself that I have never experienced because I just dream of how he can be tortured and suffer,” he says.
“I hate him, I hate everything he stands for, including on climate change. He’s in the pocket of the oil industry, he doesn’t want to hear that fossil fuels may, in fact, be poisoning the whole Earth.”
“The Hurricane Heist” was released in North America on Friday.