Fighting the Good Fight
Another important element for the new film would be its stunts. Having a performer such as The Rock as a lead actor presented an opportunity to create a whole new spectrum of action that could never have been attempted in 1973. Although recent films often utilize enhanced stunt techniques featuring visual effects and extensive wire work, the Walking Tall filmmakers decided to keep the film's many fights on a grounded, realistic plane to match the original film's memorable raw intensity.
Kevin Bray and stunt coordinators Jeff Habberstad and Mike Crestejo concentrated on designing complex mano a mano fisticuffs that would use The Rock's prowess in the wrestling ring as well as create action scenes that were visceral and believable for the audience identifying with the plight of Chris Vaughn.
"We are living in a world where recent technology has changed what action scenes can be," explains producer Paul Schiff. "The wire work and artificiality defy the laws of physics with people flying through the air. We decided it was important to be intense, brutal and real when creating our fights. We wanted to go back to the basics and find the roots of those fights we all remembered from the classic films of the seventies. We were fortunate to have a director who also wanted a 'low-fi,' earthbound approach to the key fights in this film, and who also wanted those fights to be believable within the world of our story."
Reality was what Habberstad and Crestejo also had in mind when rehearsing the parries and thrusts of the film's many complex brawls.
"I think people really appreciate seeing something with real people, not a cartoon," says Habberstad, who has created fights for films such as Spiderman and Mission: Impossible 2. "People are going to watch our fights and know we had real people - no fake flying, no computer generated actors, but the real thing."
In designing the film's climatic battle royale between Chris and his nemesis, Jay Hamilton, it was important to cast an actor who could conceivably stand up to The Rock's immense physicality and power. Surprisingly, that actor was Neal McDonough, better known as the nattily-dressed star of the television series Boomtown as well as the futuristic cop in Minority Report.
"Neal's a tough son of a gun," says Habberstad. "We dropped him, we slammed him and he just took it and asked for more!"
McDonough, it seems, has a hidden athletic side. Not only is the actor in fantastic physical shape, but he was once a star pitcher for the Syracuse University baseball team. For director Bray, it was McDonough's acting prowess that made the difference in his ability to create an antagonist big enough to take on The Rock.
"Neal is super focused and always gives such amazing performances," says Bray. "The fights would not be what they are without Neal. He was the cheerleader, the coach, and everything else while we shot his fight with The Rock, and you could sense The Rock learning a few things from Neal as well."
For The Rock, fighting the film's final donnybrook with McDonough was indeed a match made in cinematic heaven.
"Neal is an exceptional athlete, and his athleticism shows in our fight scenes," says The Rock. "I was really surprised, because a great athlete does not always make a great fighter. There's an X factor, a switch you turn on. Neal is one of those guys who has that switch."
For McDonough, the film's bruising finale was a challenge and a pleasure for an actor not used to enduring such raw tests of strength and timing.
"It was really physical for me," says McDonough. "Falling fifty feet through a sawmill, beating each other with axes and wood - really raw stuff. It was so much fun! Rock's a muscular guy, to be sure, but I am in pretty good shape; I box and play baseball all the time. But I haven't ever worked with an<
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