Director David O. Russell, introducing his 1999 Gulf War film "Three Kings" at the Los Angeles Film Festival Sunday night, said that he would never make another war film, and that all the armed conflicts in the last 50 years have been pointless.
"I don't think there's been a war in my lifetime that is worth a damn," Russell, who was born in 1958, said in a LAFF interview with Elvis Mitchell. "They've all been stupid, and they just make a handful of people rich."
He paused and shrugged. "And they've enriched our cinema and literature."
"Three Kings," which stars George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Spike Jonze as soldiers who plan to steal hidden Kuwaiti gold during the brief Gulf War in 1991, came on the heels of Russell's two indie comedies, "Spanking the Monkey" and "Flirting With Disaster."
"I wanted to make a studio movie, I wanted to make an action movie, and I wanted to not take violence for granted, but to treat every bullet like it mattered," he said. "My biggest regret as a filmmaker is that I didn't have the skills to drill deeper into the characters."
Later in the conversation, Russell added that he had no intention of returning to the war genre.
"I will not go back to war," he said. "I will not go into the desert. I don't want to make a movie about guns. And I will not make a military movie without women, that's for sure."
The hour-long conversation came after Russell was presented with the festival's Spirit of Independence Award by LAFF's artistic director, David Ansen.
A few days earlier, Ansen had interviewed Russell in front of more than 40 LAFF directors at the festival's annual pre-fest retreat at Skywalker Ranch in Northern California, and Russell grew flustered as he went back to lines from that previous conversation. "David, can you leave so I don't feel like I'm repeating myself?" he asked, only partly in jest. Ansen obliged and left the auditorium.
Russell spent much of the conversation bringing the talk around to the film he just finished shooting, "American Hustle," with Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams. But he addressed his cinematic rough patch, first with the stormy shoot of "I Heart Huckabees" and then with "Nailed," which was derailed by financial difficulties before he could finish it.
"I kind of lost my way around the time of 'Huckabees,'" he said. "I wrote that movie too many times and thought about it too much."
He compared the aftermath of "Nailed," when he began to redeem his reputation with "The Fighter" and then was finally able to get financing for the long-delayed "Silver Linings Playbook," as a key time when his view of filmmaking changed.
He compared the precarious state of his career before "The Fighter" as "being hung over a cliff … and told, 'Tell a story – and tell it like it counts, mother---er.'
"Since then, I've wanted to put everything I have into these movies, every bit of humanity," he said.
With back-to-back acclaim and Oscar nominations for "The Fighter" and "Silver Linings Playbook," and with "American Hustle" due out at the end of the year, he added that he has no intention of slowing down – even if we're not likely to see another war movie in his future.
"I want to be like John Huston, who was walking around the set of his last movie, 'The Dead,' with an oxygen tank behind him and a tube in his nose," he said.
"I know Quentin [Tarantino] has talked about retiring, which I guess is good if you've got a .450 batting average. But I want to keep working."