LOS ANGELES — In the phantasmagorial sci-fi epic “Edge of Tomorrow,” Tom Cruise finds himself encased in an 85-pound metal exoskeleton bristling with futuristic weaponry and confronted with a singularly intractable situation: a kill-and-be-killed conflict that repeats on indefinite loop.
Over and over he wages the same battle against marauding space invaders only to perish and discover himself mysteriously reincarnated, blessed with terrible new knowledge of his enemy as well as his own limitations as a hero.
“Live, die, repeat,” as the movie’s tag line goes.
Cruise’s predicament in the film, which hits theaters Friday, provides a nifty parallel for the career of Doug Liman, “Edge of Tomorrow’s” trailblazing yet bedeviling director. Over the last two decades, the filmmaker has condemned himself to a cycle of creative conflict he readily acknowledges follows a certain pattern, in the process alienating friends and creating powerful Hollywood enemies. On his most notorious movie productions, the director’s M.O. — dubbed “Limania” by some former collaborators — has stretched producers and studio heads to their breaking points and imperiled his ability to get work directing movies.
“It’s no secret that my process is a little bit loose and can be a little bit infuriating to a studio if they don’t know what they’re signing up for,” Liman said, letting his understatement hang in the air of his West Los Angeles production office.
All the while, however, the Manhattan-born Liman has continued to burnish a filmography distinguished by features that have become touchstones of their respective genres. Among them: 1996’s lounge-lizard dramedy “Swingers,” responsible for launching the careers of Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau and injecting the phrase “You’re so money” into popular consciousness; “The Bourne Identity,” which grafted existential turmoil onto a Robert Ludlum spy thriller in 2002, and “Mr. &Mrs. Smith,” the romantic-action-comedy that first unleashed the entity known as Brangelina on the world in 2005.
“Edge of Tomorrow” appears set to follow in that line, boasting an impressive 92 percent “freshness” rating on the movie review aggregator RottenTomatoes.com and showing strong pre-release awareness across the globe for showcasing action veteran Cruise in a totally new light.
“It’s fun coming up with new ways to kill yourself,” Cruise said with a laugh. “I told the stunt guys, ‘Watch Wile E. Coyote cartoons. It’s not violent enough! ’ ”
Moreover, Liman’s eclectic oeuvre goes some way to explaining why he chooses to view his latest effort — a $178-million popcorn movie that makes extensive use of green-screen technology and stars the most enduring action hero in moviedom — as an “independent film.” Even if that process of maintaining creative autonomy results in ruffling Hollywood’s feathers again and again.
“I never want to repeat myself,” Liman, 48, said of his body of work. “I can’t imagine anything else as upsetting as realizing I’m redoing something I did before. For some reason, when it comes to film, I’m very good at not repeating myself. .”
Developed into a screenplay by the Hollywood production company 3 Arts Entertainment, Liman joined the project in 2010, with Cruise signing on a year later (the young recruit character now re-imagined as a cowardly middle-aged lieutenant colonel who has never experienced battle). About six months before cameras rolled in 2012, the Limania began in earnest.
Emily Blunt puts a finer point on that character trait, praising Liman’s ability to present his unvarnished opinion absent any fear of provoking dissent in his ranks.
“He has no filter when it comes to being honest,” she said. “You can waste so much time with politeness and diplomacy on set. That’s what’s so refreshing about Doug. He’s honest when he’s not happy with something and very honest when he is happy with something. He’s confident enough to try anything and carve out new space for every moment that is in the movie.”