Doug Liman Never Does Things the Easy Way | Features

March 23, 2024 - Movies

Liman did it again with “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” which was a massive hit, no matter the anxieties he caused the studio. In that L.A. Times piece, Liman didn’t take too kindly to being told that Goldsman had called him a madman, although he did admit, “I’m an unusual person … [but] the movie I end up with is the movie I aspired to make.” 

Hollywood loves stories of directors betting big and then hitting the jackpot, which is why part of the lore around “Titanic” and “Avatar” is how risky those James Cameron movies seemed before they became phenomena. But that thrilling, feel-good narrative fades quickly if the filmmaker isn’t able to keep pulling rabbits out of his hat. That’s what happened to Liman after “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” when he signed on for the sci-fi action flick “Jumper,” which was meant to set up a trilogy. Starring Hayden Christensen, Rachel Bilson and Samuel L. Jackson—and proudly advertised as “From the director of ‘The Bourne Identity’ and ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’”—the film, about a young man who discovers he has the power to teleport himself, was only a modest hit, insufficient to start a franchise. The reviews were terrible, with many focusing on Christensen’s awkward performance, but years later, Liman also put the blame on himself.

“When I was making ‘Jumper,’ I said that my version of a superhero film would be that the person doesn’t become a superhero,” he recalled in a 2018 interview. “They have a superpower, but they use the power to save themselves, at the end of the movie, and not to save the damsel in distress. I thought that would be interesting, in the same way ‘The Bourne Identity’ took what was in the spy genre, and just threw it out the window. And then, you end up in these moments, where you paint yourself into a corner and it’s hard to get out of because you start to realize that these clichés exist because they work, and you’ve intentionally cut off a known thing that works to do something experimental. In the case of ‘The Bourne Identity,’ it worked out, and in most of my films, it’s worked out.”

As was becoming common, when Liman was working on “Jumper,” there were stories about a tense shoot. (In addition, Christensen sustained serious injuries and, tragically, set dresser David Ritchie died during an on-set accident.) In the midst of production, Liman spoke to Empire, insisting that rumors about him being difficult were simply a byproduct of staying true to his vision. “I remember an argument that I had with the head of Universal [when making ‘The Bourne Identity’],” he recalled, “and she said, ‘This isn’t your film school. You don’t get to run around and try ideas out. This isn’t your film school.’ She was wrong. That’s the way you get something original. You don’t want to fall back on something someone else has done. Then you’re a hack.” 

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