We'd spent no shortage of time around here in recent weeks lamenting John Cusack's one-two professional plunge of box-office allergic Grace is Gone and critic-allergic War, Inc. Then came last weekend, when War, Inc. nabbed the second-highest per-screen average in the country: $27,252, second only to Indiana Jones 4. Heady, eye-opening stuff, to be sure — but not quite as eye-opening as when Cusack actually phoned us an hour ago to talk about it.
"If I answer your questions, will you stop writing nasty shit about me?" he asked. Of course we could promise nothing (especially not with a Roland Emmerich collaboration on the horizon), but for now, anyway, it's hard to deny he's on to something with War, Inc. He tells us why after the jump.
Most observers were pretty shocked to see War, Inc. score the way it did last weekend, especially after the reviews it got. What was your reaction?
I wasn't totally shocked, but I'm shocked that it went as well as it did. I've been the beneficiary of a lot of cultural snobbery, so I can't really bitch about it, you know? I don't really mind too much when it goes against me, especially when you do a movie that's different and radical. Some of the most powerful people intellectually that I know had not only seen it but endorsed it: authorities on Iraq, writers, thinkers, artists, comedians — I thought, "Hey, we've got a shot here; we don't need to sell out 6,000 screens, but I thought we could just go grass roots with it."
What's the irony in a critically-snubbed film about the Iraq War doing so well, especially after those same critics complained about commercial failures of films they backed?
Not only didn't it have critical backing, it didn't have corporate backing. But again, the critical backing we had was a different kind of critic. They write about foreign affairs and politics and culture; they don't sit around a bunch of junkets every weekend and then be snarky tastemakers about movies. Many of the press never wrote about movies before; they spent time in Iraq and had written about the issues in the movies for a long time. They said, "I don't know what the hell these critics are seeing, but this is what we see." Some people just get it.
Is that a model that more distributors and studios should take to heart for future Iraq films?
I hope so. I definitely remember thinking that if we pulled this off, it wouldn't have been done before. I was pretty excited about that. But I've also been around long enough to know the response something gets when it's either the flavor of the month or it has nothing to do with the overall life of the film — especially these kinds of edgy political satires and experimental films. We'll see how it does this weekend, but we're already going out to six new markets in two weeks.
Your previous film about the Iraq War, Grace is Gone, was a very well-received last year at Sundance. Harvey Weinstein bought it for $4 million; it made less than $100,000. What happened?
I think, to be honest, releasing it at Christmas was probably not the right time, in retrospect. I think Harvey was thinking it would get into that award season "luge," where it gets nominated for script or actor and that sort of propels the life of the movie. When that didn't happen, there wasn't a back-up plan. When Christmas came around and the debacle in Iraq was so depressing, people didn't want to be reminded of it. What's fun about War Inc. is that it's got these serious ideas but it puts it through an absurdist lens. You remember subversion can be fun; the first thing you want to reclaim is your spirit of defiance.
I can't divulge that information. It's very secretive stuff.