WRITER/DIRECTOR JAMES DEMONACO!
Mi Amigos! Be real, did you go out and get your anarchistic PURGE on this past weekend? Well if you didn't, perhaps you should, as James DeMonaco's one-year-later-hit-sequel, THE PURGE: ANARCHY, is garnering decent word out mouth, as well as business, with the general consensus agreeing it's a rare sequel that actually eclipses the original. Okay, so The Arrow wasn't too impressed, but overall, the flick is said to have wisely expounded on the kick-ass premise that the original failed to fully explore. And for this, props must go to writer/director James DeMonaco, who, despite directing only three features to date, has been toiling away as a Hollywood writer since the mid-90s. Dude's essayed family fare in JACK, thrilling-action in THE NEGOTIATOR, gone the TV route with stuff like "The Kill Point" and "Crash." The man's writing resume is all over the map! Seems like a perfect opportunity then, while his name continues to mount momentum, that we Dissect the still-budding career of one James DeMonaco. You down? Good...now pass the scalpel!
As much as I really want to cite the highly entertaining, if sometimes ridiculous hostage-thriller THE NEGOTIATOR as his finest work, it's probably most justified to bestow such an honor to film he not only directed, but solely wrote as well (he merely co-inked the F. Gary Gray flick). So, with the crucial criterion of authorship in mind, I say we go ahead and call THE PURGE: ANARCHY James DeMonaco's best success so far. It's certainly his most timely!
And not just in its release, but in its allegory. THE PURGE: ANARCHY advances the excellent premise of the original, in which a futuristic America has adopted a policy wherein, for a single 12-hour timeframe per year, all acts of violent crime are legal. And not just legal, but encouraged. The first flick, likely a result of the budgetary restraints of an indie, more or less devolved into a claustrophobic home-invasion thriller, doing so in a way that completely squandered such an inventive premise. In ANARCHY however, the possibilities are opened up dramatically, using said plot-conceit to comment on salient social issues currently unfolding not just in the U.S., but around the globe. The chasm between the rich and the poor, the haves and have-nots, for example. Issues of class, race, politics society etc. are subtly and not-so-subtly woven into a larger fabric of a genre film. Some of it works on the subliminal level, some of it is bashed over your head, but still, that a widely-released genre flick has the gall to comment on any social issue, well, DeMonaco ought to be commended. Is it a perfect film? Far from it? But for a $9 million dollar genre flick that made $13 million back on opening night ($30 mil for the weekend), it's hard to argue against it being DeMonaco's most successful yet!
And not for nothing, I know this isn't terribly AITH relevant, but we'd seriously be remiss if we didn't at least mention "The Kill Point" - DeMonaco's short-lived but badass TV show. If, like most, you missed it when it debuted back in 2007, The Kill Point was all about a ragtag band of Iraq vets who come home to realize they aren't as well taken care of as they should be. The response? Why, robbing a bank, of course! John Leguizamo led a solid cast that also included PURGE ANARCHY star Frank Grillo, Leo Fitzpatrick, Michael K. Williams and Donnie Wahlberg. Like pretty much everything war-related however, the show never caught on. Still, as a showrunner and writer of 7 hour-long scripts of quality material, like I said, it deserves a shout out!
Whoa, let's just get this out of the way really quick. I don't give a good goddamn if the great Francis Ford Coppola directed it - JACK, the 1996 family "comedy" starring Robin Williams - is without a doubt the most embarrassing credit on DeMonaco's resume. Has to be. How my man even survived that debacle and persisted to the point of current flourish is beyond comprehension, which makes his career all the more impressive. I mean, JACK? JACK?!? My word!
With that out of our system, we can press on. Anyone remember the '06 werewolf action-horror joint SKINWALKERS? Yay? Nay? Well, our man DeMonaco sort of made his first foray into the horror realm with the flick, which he co-wrote with two others. Not sure that quite constitutes his worst work, as he's hardly responsible for the final product (directed by the late Jim Isaac, RIP!), but still, it's pretty inferior to both the rest of his writing resume, as well as his directorial canon. Straight up, even James' first feature, the 2009 flick LITTLE NEW YORK, is leaps and bounds above SKINWALKERS...in almost every facet.
Truth be told, I don't see a ton of consistent through-lines in DeMonaco's work just yet. Part of that is due of course to the small sample size, but also in the variety of his projects up to now. Granted, James has worked with Ethan Hawkes thrice now, once on ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, once on LITTLE NEW YORK and again in THE PURGE. Johnny Legz twice...on ASSAULT and "The Kill Point." And I suppose if he's not careful, DeMonaco could be trademarked as the PURGE guy, known only for a single brand of films, that is if he continues to helm sequels in a way that breathes long-lasting life into the franchise. Who knows. Time will tell I suppose. But I actually think it's pretty refreshing to Dissect a mofo who hasn't a go-to trademark or directorial gimmick to fall back on. Not to say I don't admire most to all of the ones we've addressed heretofore, but for a budding filmmaker trying to make his mark, DeMonaco's got time!
Briefly teased it above, so let's unearth it in whole now. How many of you were, like me, pleasantly surprised by the '05 remake of ASSULT ON PRECINCT 13? And how many of you, like me, flat out wanted to hate it going in, based on nothing but love for John Carpenter's original? Being proved wrong made the experience all the sweeter, didn't it?!
Seriously, I ended up having a fucking ball with the PRECINCT 13 redo. I'll admit, it started slow, but with DeMonaco's layered script (that he adapted alone) and French director Jean-Francois Richet's deft balancing act of action and character, I kind of loved it. Hey, the script must have been pretty damn legit to attract the A-list acting likes of Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Gabriel Byrne, Maria Bello, John Leguizamo, Brian Dennehy and Kim Coates. Moreover, I think that, by setting the flick on a snow-dappled New Years Eve, with the last-half pretty much playing out like a Mexican-standoff finale of an old-school western, the flick took a fresh approach to the groundwork Carpenter laid back in 1976 (boy that's a bad pun). Remember, that first flick was a rough and tumble indie, very raw in many respects. The redo has a polish and panache that the OG doesn't, and certainly better actors to make the material believable. Now, do I like the remake better? I can't quite say that, but for a hidden gem that surely surpassed expectations...DeMonaco ought to be proud of this one!
Since THE PURGE: ANRACHY has already banked an ass-load of cash, you can expect the inevitable PURGE 3 to hit production sometime soon. Question is, will DeMonaco direct it? He might be a fool not to, monetarily speaking at least, but what about artistically? Well, here's what DeMonaco had to say just a few days ago about his potential next project. Peep it:
Thereís another project I wrote called Feral, thatís what I really want to do next Ė not that I donít want to do The Purge 3 - but I wrote Feral already. I literally finished Feral the day before The Purge came out, and Universal was about to buy it, they read it the day before, we were about to start discussing moving forward, then The Purge opens, it does well, and Universal decided to shelve it for The Purge: Anarchy. [Laughs] We re-opened negotiations on [Feral], so Iím hoping that can come next."
As for what FERAL is about, DeMonaco continued:
Iím not allowed to say because theyíre about to buy it, but I need more money. Itís a big genre movie with some socio-political things, itís more action/horror. There are other stories I want to tell, I just hope I get to do Ďem!"
Fuck yeah! I think I speak for us all when I say we always need more action/horror! And if it has a thought-provoking message to go along with a big action-packed spectacle, a la SNOWPIERCER, all the better! Be sure to keep it here as we learn more about FERAL in the weeks and months to come...
After slapping dude under the microscope and slicing and dicing six ways to Sunday...it's become crystal clear. James DeMonaco is in the sweet spot right now. After grinding away for the last 20 years in various writing, directing and producing capacities - the man is finally starting to gain some serious traction in this ever-capricious crapshoot of a biz. After surviving the stupefying Coppola vehicle JACK, James D has gotten back on track. He co-wrote THE NEGOTIATOR (which I saw in the theater with my pops and still love!), he aptly adapted ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, created his own badass bank-heist TV series in "The Kill Point," before finding even greater success via the writer/directorial efforts of LITTLE NEW YORK, THE PURGE and now, THE PURGE: ANARCHY. Let's see...for a dude NEGOTIATING, ASSAULTING & PURGING his way through Hollywood...James DeMonaco is soon to play by his own rules!