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Nature vs. Nitro: Director Rob Cohen on the Stunts and the Human Drama at the Center of 'The Hurricane Heist'

March 7, 2018Ben MK

Best known for helming such films as The Fast and the Furious and xXx, Rob Cohen is a director who’s made a name for himself bringing some of the most stunt-filled action spectacles to the big screen. For his latest movie, The Hurricane Heist, however, Cohen has set out not only to give moviegoers their next adrenaline fix, he's set out to deliver some compelling character drama as well.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Cohen about the making of The Hurricane Heist, including his approach to casting, and to find out more about the film's wildest stunts.

The premise of The Hurricane Heist is something I don't think we've really seen before in a movie. Can you tell me more about how you came to be attached to this project and what about it appealed to you?

Cohen: Some producers I knew had a 20-something-year-old script. They handed it to me, and it had coffee rings and tomato sauce all over it. It wasn't a good script, but it had a great idea in it, and that was a group of thieves trying to pull off a heist using a hurricane as the cover for their nefarious activities. I loved that idea, and I took just that and then redeveloped the whole thing.

I just felt that if I was going to do another action film, it would be really cool to have it not be just, "Here's a thrilling action movie," but to put an action movie inside a Category 5 hurricane, so that all the tropes — the chases, the gun battles, everything — gets reinterpreted, because it's all in this environment in which nature is roaring and ripping everything up. It becomes a very different movie than it would be if it was just a straight heist movie.

I find disaster movies have almost one dimension. Once the earthquake happens and the buildings are wrecked, then it becomes trying to find your daughter in the wreckage, and at this point it just feels — after Irwin Allen and Roland Emmerich and all the great disaster movies that have been made — that it's not new. All you can do is try and make it bigger and more expensive, and then you have a risk of Geostorm.

So I didn't have to do a disaster movie, and I didn't have to do a heist movie; I could do both movies at once if I figured out ways to balance that out so that they both — with the hurricane and the heist — became one big experience, as opposed to two separate films.

What was the most interesting thing about combining those two genres?

Cohen: Everything that I did in this film is different than I would have done if I were working with one or another of the elements. And as you'll see, it's very reflexive. Things that happen in the heist affect the plot of the hurricane, and things that happen in the hurricane are affecting the heist. I think it's a reciprocating, hand-in-hand narrative. And you get this originality, because you literally have not seen half the scenes in this film before, because of the hybrid aspect.

I believe this is your first time working with Toby Kebbell, Maggie Grace, Ryan Kwanten and Ralph Ineson. Can you tell me more about the cast and what they bring to the film?

Cohen: I wanted to cast real actors, not predictable action stars. And I switched the leads so that the gun guy is the woman and the intellectual hero is the guy, and I made the love story between two estranged brothers, not the guy and the girl. I was breaking all the rules and trying to find a heartbeat, and it was on those two sets of relationships that it finally clicked for me how to create the human aspect to make the whole thing work.

Ryan and Toby are very at odds with each other at the beginning of the movie, because of something that happens in their childhood, which you see in the opening 3 minutes of the movie. One brother blames the other for the death of their father, and you watch that heal through the course of the film, as each brother goes on the line to help them save the other, and you begin to feel you're really watching something with good dramatic elements and heart.

You know, a little lump in the throat from time to time. That makes an action genre film unexpected, because you'd think, "Here's some blabber dialogue and then let's get back to the effects," but here there's actually some human stories unfolding while everything else is happening.

Aside from the emotion, of course, what viewers are looking forward to in a film like this are the stunts as well. What was the wildest stunt you pulled off for The Hurricane Heist?

Cohen: Oh my God, we did stunts that we thought weren't gonna be wild that turned out wild. There was one moment — I think it's in the trailer — where Ryan Kwanten has to get out of his tow truck and jump to the back of this 18-wheeler at 50-miles-an-hour, and Toby is hanging off the back of that truck trying to help catch him. And you'll see the jump — Ryan almost missed it, but that jump takes your breath away because there's no cut. You see it's Ryan, there's no doubt it's Ryan, but what you see happen you almost can't believe we did.

I [also] did a flood moment where I unleashed 44,000 gallons of water. This was on the stunt team, because this was way too dangerous with actors. That wall of water hit those guys like pistols, and they were thrown about [like] bowling pins gone flying all over the place. It was really something to see. One guy almost drowned and another guy got a concussion. Both were shook up, but they're stunt men, and they're Bulgarian stunt men, so they're very tough. [laughs]

What other projects do you have coming up?

Cohen: I'm now working on a movie called Razor, based on the comic book series by Everette Hartsoe. It's a female heroine set in a comic book world called Queen City, and it's a Joan of Arc story. I finished the script two weeks ago, we've made our casting lists, and we're about to go put it together, so wish me luck.

The Hurricane Heist is in theaters March 9th.

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