No guts, no glory

David O. Russell gets to the heart of the matter, down to the last detail

"That was the endeavor for George as an actor coming off Out of Sight, which I thought was some of his strongest work -- to give him a deeper authority as a character and more directness," Russell says. "You can't just be a rock. You have to let people into your heart a little bit. He has a way of acting that is more evasive. You can see the pain on his face when Spike says, 'Where the hell is Troy?' He had a hard choice to make, and he gets how everything is now so fucked-up, but he wouldn't change his decision, which is why he says to him, 'I had no choice.'"

There is a scene early during the film, when Archie explains to Troy how a bullet causes damage -- by releasing bacteria into the bloodstream, causing a fatal infection. Most directors would leave it at that, as a conversation. But Russell literally takes the audience inside Troy's chest; we see, we savor, the heart beating, the lungs expanding and contracting, green bile coating every organ until they appear to shut down. Russell wrote that moment, and much of the film, in the apartment of a friend, a doctor who explained to him the several ways a bullet could penetrate a man without killing him.

The studio at first resisted showing the moment, then thought better of it. Russell demanded it remain in the movie -- shown not once, but twice. He simply felt that in a film about the consequences of violence, it was necessary to show it -- not just the blood on the outside, but the ruination wrought inside. That, in the end, is what his extraordinary movie is ultimately about.

David O. Russell and George Clooney, presumably when neither man wanted a piece of the other
Scott M. Nelson
David O. Russell and George Clooney, presumably when neither man wanted a piece of the other

"That's why I conceived of the film after the war is over -- you don't have to look at a barrage of bullets," he says. "It's that gray area, like in Spanking the Monkey or Flirting With Disaster, where you're thinking, 'You gonna have sex, or are you not gonna have sex?' Here, it's, 'Are we shooting or not shooting?' It's more like you and me hanging out here, and suddenly one of us has a gun. I'm not using the gun; I'm just leaving it here. But there's suddenly a different energy there. I like that gray area. I don't know why. There's something more intense. It feels more unpredictable, and the only thing that interested me was the human texture. I was never sure what was going to work. I was only sure it would."

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