Climate change message in Cohen's new film The Hurricane Heist

The Hurricane Heist, which stars Maggie Grace (left), is directed by Rob Cohen (above), creator of the Fast And Furious franchise.
The Hurricane Heist, which stars Maggie Grace, is directed by Rob Cohen , creator of the Fast And Furious franchise.PHOTO: YOUTUBE
The Hurricane Heist, which stars Maggie Grace (left), is directed by Rob Cohen (above), creator of the Fast And Furious franchise.
The Hurricane Heist, which stars Maggie Grace, is directed by Rob Cohen, creator of the Fast And Furious franchise.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

SAN DIEGO •This year, the United States Federal Reserve will shred an estimated 5.6 billion damaged, out-of-date or just plain shabby banknotes worth US$175 billion (S$230 billion).

Money gets trashed regularly and mostly no one notices, but what if a hurricane and a gang of sophisticated thieves are headed right towards where it is kept?

That is the premise of The Hurricane Heist, the latest release from veteran director Rob Cohen, creator of the Fast And Furious franchise.

"A shootout is no longer just a shootout, a chase is no longer just a chase. Any of the tropes of action films suddenly have to be reinterpreted by taking place in (strong) winds and driving rain," the 68-year-old said.

"It just seemed like, what a delicious challenge to be able to create a hurricane itself and create an action film within it."

The Hurricane Heist stars Toby Kebbell (Kong: Skull Island, 2017) as a meteorologist tracking the fiercest storm in US history as it heads for coastal Alabama.

As the locals evacuate, the US mint in the fictional town of Gulfport races against time to shred US$600 million of old bills, but a gang of tech-savvy robbers have other ideas.

Extreme weather is a nightmare all too real for Cohen, who remembers a terrifying storm when he was growing up in Cornwall, an hour's drive north of New York.

"We got hit with a hurricane sometime in the 1950s and all I remember is the power going out and trees falling. You hear the trees snapping and falling and those banshee winds howling," he said.

"We were on the edge of that storm, not even in the brunt of it, but I remember I was six or seven years old, just hunkering down, worried that a tree was going to crush the house with me in it."

After graduating from Harvard University, Cohen got his break in Hollywood as a reader for agent Mike Medavoy.

One day, he plucked a script from a slush pile and promised his boss it was "the great American screenplay and will make an award-winning, major-cast, major-director film".

Medavoy agreed to try to sell it, but warned that if there were no takers, Cohen would be fired.

Universal bought it and it went on to win seven Oscars, including Best Director and Best Picture, and Cohen has been known ever since as "the kid who found The Sting".

That 1973 movie starred Robert Redford and Paul Newman as two grifters looking to con a mob boss.

This intuition has fuelled much of Cohen's work, balanced with an aptitude for innovative special effects that has seen him firing cars out of moving trains and placing his cameramen on go-karts.

Creating the storm of the century on camera is the kind of challenge the director of high-octane blockbusters such as xXx (2002) and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993) relishes.

An early pioneer with computer-aided animation, he abandoned CGI in favour of practical effects to show farmhouses destroyed, trucks whipped into the air and a tsunami crash into a garden centre .

Kebbell and actress Maggie Grace, who plays a US treasury agent, endured pummelling by crushing rain, 160kmh wind gusts and routine 16-hour days on set.

You do not have to look particularly hard to find the subtext in all this chaos, for The Hurricane Heist wears its ecology message very much on its sleeve.

Kebbell's character explains at one point that the increasing frequency and severity of hurricanes is caused by global warming and that "with all due deference to Donald Trump, there is man-made climate change".

Cohen, it turns out, has vitriol to spare for the American President, who has described climate change as a Chinese hoax.

"I hate everything he stands for, including on climate change," he said.

"He doesn't want to hear that fossil fuels may in fact be poisoning the whole Earth."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2018, with the headline 'Climate change message in Cohen's new film The Hurricane Heist'. Print Edition | Subscribe