Delving into Gallo’s mindset for ‘Vanquish’
For 35 years, screenwriter-director George Gallo Jr. has made most of his money as a filmmaker. His name has been in the credits for movies like “Midnight Run,” “Bad Boys,” “Double Take” and “Vanquish,” which opens today for rent on Apple TV and other streaming outlets.
In digging through his long IMDB page, it’s easy to spot some recurring themes. For example, police corruption is a factor in both “Midnight Run” and “Vanquish.” In the former, Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) works as a bounty hunter because he refuses to go on the take, and in “Vanquish,” retired cop Damon (Morgan Freeman) has the unenviable and possibly impossible task of covering for a lifetime of dirty policing.
While the idea pops up throughout Gallo’s filmography, it may be buried in his subconscious.
“Where thoughts and ideas come from, they’re sometimes less calculating. You go by some feeling,” he explained over the phone. “I never put that together, but you’re right. I don’t know the answer exactly. I guess corruption and people pretending to be something they aren’t is good fodder for screenwriting.
“There’s something fun about bad guys. You get to exorcise things that in real life are terrible but in movies that are a little more intriguing and fun to watch. It’s great to watch those types of people get their comeuppance.”
“Vanquish,” which Gallo co-wrote with Samuel Bartlett, also features Gallo’s recurring pairing of polar opposites for its leading characters. “Midnight Run” paired the gruff Jack Walsh (De Niro) with a whiny, fugitive accountant (Charles Grodin), whose client happened to be the Mob. Similar pairings included the suave Will Smith and the goofy Martin Lawrence (“Bad Boys”) and the churlish Eddie Griffin and the sophisticated Orlando Jones (“Double Take”).
In the new movie, Freeman’s Damon is in a wheelchair after an assassination attempt, so he depends on an agile, motorcycle-riding former drug runner (Ruby Rose) to settle up his crooked transactions. “She becomes his mobility,” he recalled. “Opposites dealing with each other is definitely something I like to play around with because it’s instant drama and instant locking of horns and when both people are highly intelligent, it does create good drama and comedy in places.”
Gallo may come back to the theme because he has seen it frequently in real life. In his comedy “The Comeback Trail,” which is hitting screens later this year, the director had to accommodate two Oscar-winning thespians, Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones, with distinct approaches to their craft.
“De Niro didn’t want to rehearse too much. He loved talking about backstory, and he loved talking about character, but for the actual rehearsal, he didn’t want to do it and burn out. Tommy loved to rehearse, and Tommy wanted to do it over and over again to get it better. That’s always an interesting balancing act as a filmmaker. You have to try and figure out how do I get all these very different actors and very different methods to work together cohesively,” he said.
Gallo is also probably still working as a filmmaker because he can adapt to changes in the real world as well as on a set. A unique aspect of “Vanquish” is that it was made under covid-19 restrictions. Whereas Ben Wheatley’s “In the Earth” was clearly shot during the lockdown and works quarantine imagery into its story, the accommodations for keeping the actors away from the virus aren’t as visible. Thanks to its nocturnal setting, there is little street traffic to get in the way of the stunts and gunplay. While the other film had masks on-camera, Gallo’s performers took theirs off when it was time for a take.
“We got lucky in that the story sort of lent itself to being covid-friendly. I wanted to have no extras (background artists) in the movie and no traffic in the streets. I wanted the characters in the movie to be the only thing going on,” he recalled.
“Everybody had to get a test every morning. We only got shut down once. We had a false positive. Everyone kept their distance. Your first instinct is to run up to someone. In this case, I was alone by the monitor.”
If the shoot in Mississippi was stripped down, Gallo still had to deliver the requisite action. If the director admits that night shooting is a challenge for him, he’s also happy that today’s cameras and lenses do a better job of capturing footage after sundown.
One stunt features Rose’s double Crystal Hooks, a veteran of Marvel movies, effortlessly skidding her motorcycle under the trailer of a semi.
“(Hooks) is one of the best motorcycle riders in the world,” Gallo remembers. “She did that in one take. We’ve got seven or eight cameras on her, and then she wanted to do it again. I’m like, no, no, no, no. We’ve got it.
“I’m not like Peter O’Toole in ‘The Stunt Man.’”
That may explain why Gallo also works as an impressionist painter. His movies like “Vanquish” and “29th Street” have urban settings, but his canvases have landscapes.
“The thing about making movies is that they’re all about conflict, and the only resolution is at the very end of the story,” he says.
“With painting, the way I do it, it comes from nature. It’s really about harmony. It’s a much different mindset, and frankly, I prefer painting for that reason. When you finish a painting, you’re happy and relaxed, and you’re one with nature. Whereas, when you’re making a movie, you’re kind of wrung out all the time because you’re trying to create a lot of drama and a lot of tension.”
If you think he might permanently move to painting, you’d be mistaken. Gallo has a lot of recent entries on his resume and is quick to acknowledge it.
“I have times when I wasn’t making films for years, but I was doing a lot of writing. In the last three or four years I’ve gotten very, very busy. I have no clue as to why. Once you start working, you become ‘hot’— whatever that is. Your phone starts to ring again. I don’t sit still very well. I’m happy to be working, and every time you make a movie you get better and hopefully learn something from the last movie.”
Or maybe because he’s painting and filming he’s gotten in touch with his subconscious again.
“I think they’re serving different needs. Are you sure you’re not a psychiatrist as opposed to a (reporter)?,” he chuckles. “I will be pondering this for days. My wife is laughing as she’s hearing this.”